CRESTVIEW — Which industry accounts for the biggest percentage of Florida’s economy?

If you guessed tourism, go to the back of the class.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 economic driving engine in the state of Florida,” state Sen. Greg Evers told a gathering of regional farmers Thursday.

Evers, R-Baker, was the opening guest speaker at the Veteran and Small Farmers Workshop hosted by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Okaloosa County extension.

“They want to tell you tourism is number 1 in Florida,” Evers said. “The only reason that tourism is number 1 in Florida is because of the fact they will not add forestry in with the other agricultural products that we produce.”

Evers said most of the state’s agriculture is produced on small family farms of 200 acres or less, and accounts for 57 percent of the state’s economy.

He covered several themes during his address:

FAMILY SAFETY

Saying, “If there’s any attacks, it needs to be on foreign soil,” Evers — whose campaign for Congress recently gave away a customized rifle — addressed domestic and world safety concerns.

“Let’s face it, our world today, over the past few weeks, has become chaos,” he said. “The acts of terrorism (are) beyond anything. I encourage you all to be prepared to protect yourself.

“What I am saying, if you call law enforcement, the normal reaction time is three minutes. Up where we live, it can take them 30 minutes.

“I encourage you all to be in a position where you can protect yourself and handle yourself accordingly until law enforcement gets there.”

SAFETY OF GMOS

Evers said concerns about genetically modified crops are primarily based on misinformation.

“You can go down to the local market and the question you hear is, ‘Is that GMO?’ Why? Folks are afraid of the technology we gained over the years,” Evers said.

“I’m not going to tell you technology is bad thing. Contrary to what some consumers believe, the GMO products we produce today are safe...

“It’s up to us to educate the consumers that GMO products are safe. If they weren’t, the federal government would not allow them to be sold or produced.”

FARMING’S ROLE IN ECONOMIC RECOVERY

He credited farming operations for Florida’s rebound after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“When 9/11 hit, what happened to Florida’s economy? It tanked,” Evers said. “Why? Because folks were afraid to come to Florida.

“But you know what? Florida recovered faster than any other state because Florida hadn’t forgotten the occupation that got us to where we are today, and that is agriculture.”

FAMILY GROCERY SHOPPERS’ WANTS

“They want it locally,” Evers said. “Why? Because they’re worried about contamination and their family’s health from bringing these products from overseas and other countries....

“Farming is going the other way,” he said. “We’re relying on more of that stuff that’s coming from overseas.”

FAMILY FARMING

Evers encouraged veterans and other attendees to take up small farm operations, and to consider specialty crops such as strawberries.

“What we have today is a real opportunity for our family farms to thrive,” Evers said. “It’s OK to be a small family farm. It’s a great lifestyle. It’s something you can really enjoy doing with your family and you can make a living doing it.”

“… You want a small family farm because you want to be self-sufficient,” Evers said. “You don’t want to listen to someone else. You want to be your own man.

“You want to grow a lifestyle where you can grow your children and they won’t be subjected to the world around them.”