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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL), a leading voice for the specialty crop industry, will run for Florida agriculture commissioner when his congressional term runs out in two years.

"I'm returning to my roots," Rep. Putnam told The Produce News in a Feb. 3 interview. "I've spent most of my time in Congress advocating for agriculture, nutrition, food safety and trade. I'm looking for the opportunity to modernize the department and continue my focus on agriculture issues on a full-time basis" without having to convince 217 colleagues to move legislation forward, he said.

Rep. Putnam is vying for the seat of Florida agriculture commissioner, currently held by Charles Bronson, who is barred by law from serving another term. The commissioner runs the largest state agriculture department in the country. Two other Republicans - former state Rep. Marty Bowen and state Sen. Cary Baker - are also vying for the top agriculture job.

The Florida congressman, who has yet to announce his candidacy officially, noted that food safety would be a key issue during the campaign because it is a primary concern for producers and consumers.

"Florida is a leader in food safety, but there's more we can do," he said. Food-safety technologies are becoming more cost-effective for even the smallest producer, he said, adding that renewable energy and conservation are also likely to dominate his campaign for the top Florida agriculture post.

"[Rep. Putnam] has done a tremendous amount for Florida and Florida agriculture," said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, based in Maitland. "His roots are in agriculture, and that's where his heart is, so he'll make a great agriculture commissioner."

Mr. Stuart added that Rep. Putnam "has done a phenomenal job working with the Bush administration to find relief for the industry" after several bad hurricane seasons.

Florida producers will look to other members of the Florida delegation, such as Rep. F. Allen Boyd Jr. (R), to lead the charge if Mr. Putnam is elected.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Rep. Putnam worked on his family's citrus and cattle operation before winning election to the Florida House of Representatives and then becoming one of the younger members of Congress at age 26. A leader in the House Republican party, he is best known for shaping the last farm bill that secured historic investments in fruit and vegetable production, nutrition, conservation and renewable energy.