By DONNA BALANCIA, TFLJ Editor
WINTER PARK, Fla. — Attorney Brad Hester buys locally grown products whenever he can, and not solely to keep in good physical health. The dairy farmer-turned-attorney believes buying Florida-grown products will also nurture a healthy economy.
“Agriculture is under a lot of pressure and I help however I can,” Hester said. “Many factors impact the farmers and all of us are affected every day.”
Hester has been involved in the industry for years and says the plight of the farmer pervades all realms of law, touching everything from real estate, to a wide range of environmental issues. It has been a tough economy throughout the United States, but the farmers in Florida have a particularly tough row to hoe.
“The pressure from development has been building, and land values have swung both ways,” said Hester, who works with the law office of Frank A. Hammer, P.A. in Winter Park. “In land-intensive operations, ranches and farms have been under pressure because of increasing property values, now, they are pressured because the price of land is falling. If you have used your land as collateral to invest in your business or if you’re relying on it for retirement, you’re in a difficult position because the land value has fallen dramatically.
Hester said that a few years ago, with the land boom, it was tempting to leave farming and go into development. Now that alternative isn’t there. The change in the economy has affected long range planning for most growers.
And, what a farmer grows can play a part in his future. For example, with the decline in home building, those who grow products used to embellish homes are having a challenge. Sod farmers and nursery operations are suffering because of the slowdown in building.
But on the other hand, new technologies and new products like new varieties of flowers, plants and fruits, have enabled some segments of Florida agriculture to prosper.
“There is always something new and the industry is becoming technologically advanced,” Hester said. “There have been advances in disease-resistant fruits and vegetables, for instance, some of the challenges the citrus industry has seen have been addressed.”
Hester has many industry clients, including Farm Credit of Central Florida, ACA, an agricultural credit association as well as many farmers throughout the region. He also represents commercial lenders and businesses.
Hester is respected in the community because he came from the industry he now represents.
“My wife and I ran her family’s dairy farm in Okeechobee before I went to law school,” he said. “We had 1500 cows 1,000 acres of land and 30 employees. While I was there I was coming into Orlando and I was very involved off the farm, I was active in dairy industry associations, and in the marketing and politics in the industry.”
Those activities led him to be accepted into the prestigious Wedgworth Leadership Program, a two-year leadership program that helped him develop leadership capabilities in natural resources.
Hester decided to go to law school University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to put all his knowledge of agriculture to use. He attended University of Florida for his undergraduate degree and received his MBA at University of Florida.
The experience he got on the farm has been something he has used extensively.
“I think people in the agriculture industry want an attorney they can trust and who they know understands their particular business,” Hester said. “As far as law is concerned, people in agriculture have the same concerns as any other business owner most of the time.
“Farmers have labor issues, contract issues, real estate issues and estate planning issues,” he said. “But what they want specific to agriculture is someone who really understands their situation, background and industry. In those areas, questions do come up specific to their situation.”
Hester said his is a broad category of the law.
“I don’t know a concise definition for agriculture law except that it is law for people in agriculture,” he said. “To ask, “What is agriculture law?’ you would have to define specific things like pesticide liability, food safety and perishable foods and environmental issues specific to crops.”
But Hester believes although the economic recovery in Florida may be slow, there is hope on the horizon.
“Farmers are survivors,” Hester said. “They can adapt, sometimes by moving into a specialty crop or niche area. Agriculture will rebound. It has to. It’s too important to the state of Florida.”
Donna Balancia is publisher and editor of The Florida Law Journal, the top website for lawyers in Florida. Contact Balancia at firstname.lastname@example.org