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Adam Putnam may be the new Florida Commissioner of Agriculture but to Levy County Commissioner Chad Johnson he's always been a leader with a bright future.
Putnam, a Republican, replaces Charles Bronson after beating out Democratic candidate Scott Maddox in the November general election.
The former congressman and fifth-generation cattle and citrus farmer, is now in charge of regulating consumer services, helping Florida farmers in their production and marketing efforts, managing public lands and ensuring food safety.
His department, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has more than 4,000 employees and a budget of about $700 million.
It’s safe to assume those responsibilities will keep him busy all the way up there in Tallahassee. But his one tie to Levy County may mean he will take a personal interest in what happens here.
Johnson, also a Republican, said in a phone interview last week that he’s an old college buddy of Putnam.
“I was a senior when Adam came in,” Johnson said
The two were in the same fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho, at the University of Florida in the early 1990s. Johnson said Putnam, at the age of 18, was already well known in agricultural leadership when he came to UF.
“At a young age, Adam was a leader, the way he carried himself, the way he articulated his message.” He’s very sincere, Johnson added.
Putnam, 36-year-old Bartow native, was elected to the Florida House of Representatives at the age of 22 and was elected to Congress five years later. He served in the 12th congressional district from 2001 to 2011.
Johnson said he met with Putnam recently and hopes that the new agriculture commissioner will pay a visit to Levy County. He said Putnam expressed particular interest in learning more about Cedar Key’s aquaculture.
“There again is just another strongpoint of Adam,” Johnson said, explaining that Putnam has a willingness to embrace, as well as improve upon, the practices of agriculture he’s unfamiliar with.
Some accounts by the media, based on his record as a congressman, tout Putnam as having a spotty environmental record, claiming he blocked rules established by the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at protecting Florida’s water quality.
Bronson and Johnson have also voiced objections to the rules, stating that they might hurt Florida agriculture.
Johnson said Putnam is not in favor of hurting the environment. He is, however, unconvinced that the EPA’s figures are based on sound science.
“Adam understands that sustainable means profitable.”
With that in mind, Johnson said, Putnam will work to increase growing, marketing and distribution of agricultural products in the county and state.
“He’s put together a dynamic team. And he’s always been a forward thinker.”