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It’s Not Just About Oranges: Agricultural Law Enforcement in Florida

October 10, 2022

By David Brand
Law Enforcement Coordinator, Florida Sheriffs Association

When tourists think about Florida, two images usually come to mind: beaches and oranges. However, our residents know there is far more to Florida agriculture than oranges and these resources need to be protected.

Florida has approximately 47,000 farms with the average farm size being 204 acres. With citrus groves and nurseries in Central and South Florida and vegetable farms and cattle ranches spread across the state, agriculture provides our state with a large and stable economic base. In 2020, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida ranked first in the U.S. in the value of production for oranges, sugarcane, fresh market tomatoes and watermelons; second in the value of production for strawberries; third in cabbage, grapefruit, and fresh market sweet corn; and fourth in peanuts.

The Humble Beginnings

When Admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain founded St. Augustine in 1565, the indigenous peoples relied on fish, farming, and foraging for food. Since populating Florida would require more than that, Menendez’s contract with the Spanish Crown stipulated that each of the anticipated Spanish settlers would be allotted the land and basic supplies needed to survive. To accomplish this, he brought seed stock for planting wheat and other grains and cuttings to establish vineyards, fruit trees and vegetable crops. The Spanish also brought European cattle ranching methods which dates the Florida beef cattle industry back to the 1500s as well.

Protecting the Industry

Protecting the agricultural industry and farmlands is a complex operation requiring planning, management, networking, and the criminal justice professionals in both state and local agencies.

The State of Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement operates 23 agricultural inspection stations on 19 highways going into and out of the state. Inspections are conducted 24 hours a day to detect unsafe food, plant pests, and anything else that could harm the state’s $100 billion agriculture industry.

Our Florida sheriffs established the Florida Sheriffs Agricultural Crimes Intelligence Unit in 1978 as a way of networking within the sheriffs’ office community as well as other agencies. Operating as a non-profit corporation, their mission is to promote and facilitate the exchange of intelligence and provide training for agricultural law enforcement officers. Currently, the organization has 233 members with a total of 365 officers on their intelligence sharing email distribution list. The membership involves 42 law enforcement agencies, including Florida wildlife officers, Agriculture and Consumer Services investigators, U.S. Department of Agriculture agents, and University of Florida professors.

Picture of two individuals wrangling a cattle

Wrangling cattle

One example of the power of networking was related by Ms. Brenda White of the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office. The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office received a Crimestoppers tip regarding cattle theft from a rancher in Clewiston. Their “Ag” unit sent out a notice to all Intelligence Unit members and contacted the livestock markets. A Desoto County deputy contacted them, advising that the suspected stolen cattle were at the livestock market in Arcadia. The cattle were recovered, and the suspect arrested. This case was a collaborative effort by the Hendry, Glades, Highlands, Hardee, Okeechobee, and Desoto County sheriffs’ offices.

Tasks and Challenges   

Seminole County Detective John Monk, along with Flagler County Deputy First Class Steve Williams, are respectively the current and past presidents of the Intelligence Unit. They work together with the Florida Agricultural Law Enforcement Division as well as other members of their network.

Picture of Seminole County Detective John Monk and Flagler County Deputy First Class Steve Williams

Picture of Seminole County Detective John Monk, left, and Flagler County Deputy First Class Steve Williams, right.

Their focus is on the regulation and enforcement of agricultural laws and rescuing large animals that have been abused or disabled. In the event of an accident involving large animals being transported, or a containment fence compromised, they can arrange for competent persons to herd cattle and horses and assemble portable corrals. One of their challenges involves law enforcement officers who don’t understand how to handle large animals that are in distress or have escaped from fenced areas. To help overcome some of these obstacles, annual training is offered through their association.

Picture of a training class watching a presentation

Training class

Additional information about the Florida Sheriffs Agricultural Crimes Intelligence Unit can be found at