LeMieux gives FFVA attendees a lively lesson in Florida history
Back in 1900, Florida was a backwater state filled with mosquitoes and swamps and a few hardy pioneer settlers. Today, Florida is the nation’s third most populous state with 21 million residents, along with 126-plus million visitors who contribute to economic prosperity.
At FFVA 2019’s traditional Cracker Breakfast, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux detailed the Sunshine State’s remarkable rise to prominence by telling stories from “Florida Made: The 25 Most Important Figures Who Shaped the State,” a book co-authored with journalist Laura Mize.
“Florida is really more of a country rather than a state,” said LeMieux, who is now chairman of the Florida-based Gunster law firm. “Most of us don’t know a lot about our history, especially in other parts of the state.”
LeMieux began is keynote talk with a quick sketch of Florida’s early history, beginning with Juan Ponce de Leon’s 1513 discovery of “La Florida” and the founding of St. Augustine 42 years before English settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607.
Although many of the individuals highlighted in LeMieux’s book are well known – such as the No. 1-ranked Henry Flagler, Walt Disney (No. 2), and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (No. 15) -- others are little known even to lifelong Floridians.
For instance, Dr. Joseph Porter (No. 7 in the book) was instrumental in curbing yellow fever and malaria. As Florida’s first state health officer in 1889, he implemented anti-mosquito measures such as putting nets over sleeping cots, emptying drains and putting kerosene in latrines. “He toured the state on a special health train educating the public,” LeMieux said. “People did move to Florida before there was air conditioning, but they would not have come here if they thought they would die from yellow fever.”
Another example is Douglas Dummett (No. 12), the father of Indian River citrus, who saved the state’s orange industry after a devastating 56-hour freeze in 1835. “His groves were on Merritt Island and the surrounding warm water protected his trees,” said LeMieux. “Afterward, his root stock and grafting techniques were sent throughout Florida and citrus production was able to continue.”
LeMieux noted that Florida grapefruit was so famous in the 1800s that Russian ships would dock in Jacksonville to take Indian River citrus back to the czars. Today, Florida remains the top orange producer in the nation, fueling 760,000 jobs and a $9 billion annual impact on the state’s economy.
Looking ahead, LeMieux said Florida faces four major challenges, beginning with sea level rise. “That’s the number one issue facing our state,” he said. “Think about what would happen if banks stopped writing mortgages – that would really change the dynamics here.”
Another issue is traffic congestion in major metro areas. High-speed rail service such as Virgin Trains USA’s Bright Line connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with Orlando as a future destination may provide an alternative, he added. LeMieux also cited lack of affordable housing in the state’s metro areas as a problem, along with a statewide shortage of construction workers.
“In the next decade, Florida will have two super regions: Central Florida along the I-4 corridor and Southeast Florida, where Miami is the capital of the Americas and one of the most important cities in the world,” LeMieux predicted. “Today, we can all feel proud to live in such a beautiful and blessed state.”
Seeking solutions for agriculture workforce shortage
Effective solutions are needed on a national level to address a growing shortfall in agricultural labor, according to Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort, and co-chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform.
Emphasizing the importance of political engagement, Regelbrugge encouraged FFVA members to be active advocates for agricultural immigration reform. “Do your homework, understand the key arguments, and reach out to your elected representatives,” he said at a Wednesday Issues Forum, “Workforce Worry: A Path Forward for Reform.”
Jamie Williams, chair of FFVA’s Workforce Committee, introduced Regelbrugge at the session, adding, “Workforce is our number one issue, and it’s not getting better.”
Looking at the current situation, Regelbrugge reviewed the National Agricultural Worker Survey based on the latest available data. “Agriculture’s workforce is aging,” he said, noting that the average number of years of farm experience was 16 in 2016 compared with eight years in 2009.
Most foreign-born workers have been here at least 10 years and are settled in one location rather than following the crops,” Regelbrugge said. “Overall, migrancy is diminishing, and there are few new entrants to our workforce.”
About 69 percent of farmworkers are from Mexico, 25 percent are from the United States or Puerto Rico, and 6 percent are from Central America. About 51 percent of agricultural workers said their employment was legally authorized.
Regelbrugge also noted the growing trend of engaging farm labor contractors. “Worker advocates see this model as abusive, but it actually has significant benefits, especially for smaller farmers and those with short-duration labor needs,” he said. “It also helps people who want to work as many hours as possible.”
Responding to the labor shortage, employers are filing more applications for H-2A agricultural guest-worker visas – up 11.5 percent in the past year. So far in 2019, 206,540 positions have been certified to date, and Florida is one of the nation’s top users of the program. However, that number leaves a shortage, as about 700,000 workers are needed, Regelbrugge said.
However, there are potential paths to reform in Washington. “For the first time in years, we are having a conversation in Congress about agriculture’s workforce without being tangled up in a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” Regelbrugge said, noting that one of the key players is Florida U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. “But with a divided Congress we need to find common ground. Is there a deal in our future? Today, it’s about a coin toss.”
Regelbrugge said there are proposals in Congress to provide agricultural workers with conditional visas with a path toward legal permanent residency. However, there are serious disagreements on issues such as wages and family housing. Meanwhile, both political parties have expressed a commitment to creating a dedicated pool of H-2A visas that would be for agriculture first, he said.
As for H-2A reform, Regelbrugge said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is a champion who is “trying to get it right.” But others in the Trump administration with a hard-liner anti-immigrant attitude are opposed to reform.
Meanwhile, agricultural employers face a number of challenges, such as “no match letters” from the Social Security Administration regarding individual workers. “But you are not required to go to Social Security’s online site, and there is no penalty if you don’t,” Regelbrugge said. “Deportation threats are escalating and you should be prepared for worksite enforcement, which involves more audits than raids.”
In an environment with so much workforce uncertainty, are there other potential solutions? Regelbrugge said the answer may include:
• Greater use of mechanization and automated technology
• Improved plant breeding, such as shorter trees for easier fruit picking
• Bringing in workers from the Caribbean and other non-traditional locations
• Implementing workforce development initiatives to attract younger workers
Summing up the situation, Regelbrugge said, “We are leaning in here, and working on every game plan. I am hopeful we will soon see some improvements, one way or another.”
Working together to address water problems
Preventing outbreaks of blue-green algae and red tide, managing Lake Okeechobee levels, and ensuring a sustainable supply of quality water for Florida’s cities, farms and natural wetlands are complex challenges, but vital to the state’s future.
Three expert panelists with different perspectives discussed “Water Woes: Working Together on Solutions,” at a Thursday Issues Forum moderated by Drew Bartlett, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
Dr. Wendy Graham, Swisher Eminent Scholar and director of the University of Florida Water Institute, began the session by outlining the differences between red tide, a marine organism that loves the warm salt water of the Gulf of Mexico, and blue-green algae, a freshwater organism that flourishes from nutrients in runoff water.
Last year, Florida faced both water challenges at the same time, prompting action by the state. “We all need to focus on water quality,” said Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “To support that goal, our office is trying to be a hub for information for all stakeholders.”
Ernie Barnett, executive director of the Florida Land Council, said there is not a strong connection between Florida agricultural activities and red tide, whose blooms impact coastal areas based on wind direction and currents. “Agriculture has gotten much better at managing nutrients and water,” he said. “No one sector is responsible for these terrible events, and no single sector can solve them.”
Valenstein agreed, noting that municipal sanitary sewer overflows, aging residential septic tank systems and agriculture runoff all need to be considered when seeking solutions to improve water quality and reduce algae blooms.
Graham said ongoing research may provide strategies to prevent, treat and mitigate algae blooms. “We also need to look at best management practices for urban and agricultural lands and see how well they are doing.” Investments in regional treatment infrastructure, as well as large-scale water storage, may be necessary to support local communities, she added.
Barnett said land-use activities around watersheds need to be considered when looking at the sources of nutrients. For instance, agriculture is the main source in the Lake Okeechobee and the Suwannee River basins, while urban sources are involved in the Rainbow River area.
“I believe the best stewards of our water resources are the landowners,” he said. “You know where your water goes and how fertilizer is applied. We need to continue implementing BMPs at the farm level, along with public works like downstream filter marshes, reservoirs and underground storage wells.”
Barnett also called for research on BMPs to ensure they can be both economically and technically feasible. “We have a good framework in place, but we don’t want to put farmers out of business,” he said. “There may also be opportunities for public-private partnerships, such as having landowners store water on their properties to achieve regional and state goals.”
Barnett addressed concerns about managing the level of Lake Okeechobee. “Since taking my job on April 1, I have worried about the lake level every day,” he said. “The Corps of Engineers decided to lower the lake to reduce the need for water discharges, but that affects other issues like water supply and lake navigation. Now, the Corps wants to consider harmful algae blooms in its discharge decisions, and the release of nutrients is clearly something that needs to be considered in lake management.”
All three panelists noted that federal investment in strengthening the dike around Okeechobee allows the lake to be managed at a higher level for a short period without the need for discharges. “We want to be sure the money spent on repairing the dike means something,” said Valenstein.
Fried shows her passion for agriculture
Nikki Fried is passionate about promoting and defending the Florida agriculture. “I am humbled and blessed to fight for the issues that are impacting you every single day,” said Fried, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at FFVA’s 76th annual convention. “I want to make sure that we are competitive in our markets today and for generations to come.”
A Democrat and the state’s first woman agriculture commissioner, Fried comes to her role after 15 years as a South Florida attorney. “I bring my passion and zeal to everything I do,” she told FFVA 2019 attendees. “When I travel throughout state, I meet with farmers and producers and talk to our urban friends to explain why agriculture is so important to our state.”
FFVA Chair Paul Allen introduced Fried and praised her immediate commitment to the issues facing the sector. “When the Fresh From Florida budget was under attack, she went ballistic about it,” he said. “I know firsthand how well she fights for us, and she is already winning the heart of agriculture.”
Fried said one of those important issues is the USMCA, the newly renegotiated trade pact to replace NAFTA. “It was a bad deal for us 25 years ago, and it is a bad deal today,” she said. “When we talk to the Florida congressional delegation, I want them to understand that agriculture is vital to our national security. We don’t want to be reliant on Mexico and China for food. Instead, we need to put Florida and America first.”
Fried said produce imports from Mexico are four to five times higher than four or five years ago. “When I’m in the supermarket and see shoppers reach for an import, I stop them and tell them why they should buy Florida produce,” she said.
Fried emphasized the importance of FFVA members supporting the Fresh From Florida program, as every dollar spent by the state generates a $22 return on investment. “We need this program to be fully funded and to add extra dollars, because it is so important to helping smaller growers and producers across our state,” she added.
Fried said protecting the state’s citrus industry is another priority. “We want to have funding for to fight citrus greening, as well as looking at international marketing opportunities,” she said.
Another of those opportunities involves the potential production of hemp, which has more than 25,000 known uses, Fried said. Along with human and animal uses, hemp can serve as an ecologically friendly replacement for plastics and concrete. “We are finalizing the rules for hemp,” she said. “If you choose to grow hemp, we want to make sure it is available.”
Fried also spoke about the potential for educational programs and urban gardens to give the state’s urban families a better understanding of agriculture. “Our young people need to eat healthy and nutritious foods, just like our workforce and older adults,” she said. “We want everyone in our state to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida.
The creation of an agricultural innovation and technology committee is another step forward for the department, Fried said. She is also speaking to high schools, colleges and universities about creating certificate programs for agricultural careers. “We need to inspire a new generation who may not understand the opportunities here,” she added.
Reflecting on her leadership role, Fried said, “To me, the future of our state is agriculture. Know that my mission is to make sure that you are successful and that you have a fighter on your side.”
FFVA’s 76th Annual Convention draws record attendance
FFVA’s 76th annual conference at The Breakers in Palm Beach drew record attendance with a crowd of 485. “This is our 76th year of service to the agricultural industry,” said David Hill, convention chair, at the opening lunch on Wednesday. “We continue to be the leading voice of Florida agriculture, ensuring we stay competitive in the marketplace.”
FFVA President Mike Joyner commented on his first year with the organization and thanked the convention sponsors and attendees for their support. “It is an honor to serve alongside you in the fight for our industry,” he said. “I believe that farming, like teaching, is a calling that provides you with a special opportunity to work with your family.”
In the past year, FFVA has addressed key issues for Florida agriculture, including transportation, trade, labor, water and food safety, Joyner added. “Our goal at FFVA is to lead on all these issues and exceed your expectations for our association.”
At the lunch, FFVA leaders recognized several leading individuals and organizations for contributing to the success of Florida agriculture. Aaron Troyer, incoming chair, presented the Karen and Mike Stuart Humanitarian Award to the Light House Cafe and Ella’s Closet in Belle Glade.
The Legislator of the Year awards went to state Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka) and state Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Alachua). “This is a huge honor for me, and I deeply appreciate all FFVA does for agriculture,” said Albritton. “Thank you for fighting for Florida agriculture.”
Dr. Richard Raid, professor of plant pathology with the University of Florida’s Everglades Research & Education Center, was recognized as Researcher of the Year.
Conference attendees also celebrated the growth of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, which is expanding horizons for the next generation of Florida’s agricultural professionals. “Our program continues to have a powerful impact on our industry,” said Sonia Tighe, director of the program.
Members of the incoming Class 9 were introduced at the luncheon, as Class 8 members wrapped up their yearlong learning experience. “The Emerging Leader Development Program is a great success,” said Tiffany Dale, who recounted the adventures of the graduating class. “We appreciate the support of FFVA and our sponsors for an incredible year of learning.”
Florida’s history will come alive at Cracker Breakfast with LeMieux
By Mick Lochridge
During George S. LeMieux’s time as a U.S. senator, the germ of an idea hit him for a book about the men and women responsible for Florida’s history.
“When traveling the state, I realized how little most of us know about the state we call home,” said the 50-year-old South Florida attorney. “That made me curious about our state, how it developed and who were the people who were instrumental in its development.”
That curiosity eventually led to the 2018 book, “Florida Made: The 25 Most Important Figures Who Shaped the State.” LeMieux and co-author Laura E. Mize spent two years researching and writing what he hopes will give readers “a better understanding of our great state and the people who made it what it is today.
“I also hope that it will cause discussion and debate about who were the most important people in the state’s history,” he added. As LeMieux and Mize wrote in the book’s introduction: “Behind every great story there are great characters.”
LeMieux, chairman of the board of the statewide Gunster law firm, will talk about his book and the influential people who fill its pages during the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s 76th annual convention in Palm Beach. He is the keynote speaker at the traditional Cracker Breakfast on Sept. 26.
Coincidentally, the three-day convention will be at The Breakers, a luxury hotel built in the early 1900s by Flagler, who takes top billing in the book. LeMieux wrote that Flagler was the “most significant individual in Florida’s history.”
Not surprisingly, the story of Florida agriculture plays prominently throughout the book. Railroads opened up opportunities. Drainage of the Everglades created farmlands. The invention of mechanical refrigeration solved shipping issues. And an immigrant saved the citrus industry.
Florida is familiar turf to LeMieux, who was born in Fort Lauderdale and grew up in nearby Coral Springs. After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta and Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, he joined the Gunster firm in 1994.
In 2003, he was named Florida’s deputy attorney general for then-Attorney General Charlie Crist, and later he ran Crist’s successful race for governor. LeMieux served as the new governor’s chief of staff for a year before returning to Gunster in 2008. The following year he was appointed to the U.S. Senate when Mel Martinez resigned, serving until 2011.
A resident of Fort Lauderdale, LeMieux has four children: sons Max, 16, Taylor, 13, Chase, 11, and daughter Madeleine, 9.
At Gunster, he focuses his practice on resolving business and governmental disputes, and advising executives on business, law and government from a local, state and national perspective. In addition, he is the founder of the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Taking time from his busy schedule, LeMieux answered a few questions about his book.
FFVA: How did you rank the individuals as to their importance? For example, what made Henry Flagler No. 1, Walt Disney No. 2, etc.?
LeMieux: We used the “but for” test to determine the rankings. “But for” this person, how would Florida be different? If the contribution of the person we considered would have been made a few years later by someone else, that person did not make the list. Flagler is No. 1 because there might not have been a Miami without Flagler and the Cuban diaspora may have chosen another city, like Tampa, or another state, like New York.
FFVA: Whose story did you find the most interesting and why?
LeMieux: It is hard to pick just one. The Ted Arison story (Israeli entrepreneur who played a major role in creating Florida’s cruise ship industry) is one of the most improbable. Disney and how he made his decision to come to Florida, and what to build, was fascinating!
FFVA: Whom will readers find to be the most unexpected characters included in the book?
LeMieux: Fidel Castro is probably the most unexpected profile. We did not screen candidates based upon their morality. We looked instead at their impact. Without Castro, South Florida would not likely be an international destination with a world-class city. The Cuban diaspora was among the most successful group of people to emigrate in mass in modern times.
FFVA: What did you learn from researching and writing the book?
LeMieux: I learned a whole lot about Florida and the people who made it happen. I learned, for example, who brought the space program and the military to Florida. We really enjoyed the research.
FFVA: Why is this book important to the history of the state’s agriculture industry?
LeMieux: Agriculture is one of Florida’s most important industries, and the figures we feature in our book made agriculture possible in Florida. Douglas Dummett rescued the state’s orange industry after the catastrophic 1835 freeze and pioneered Florida’s world-renowned Indian River citrus. Henry Flagler and Henry Plant built railroads the length and width of the state that allowed for Florida’s bounty to be shipped north. Hamilton Disston and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward drained much of the Everglades, which created farmland for sugarcane and winter vegetable crops.
FFVA: What does it say that the FFVA convention will be at The Breakers, which was built by Flagler, who is described in your book as “the most significant individual in Florida’s history?”
LeMieux: I think it is great! The Breakers is an iconic property. My law firm, Gunster, has had the privilege of representing The Breakers since 1925.
FFVA: Of the numerous examples of figures who helped shape Florida agriculture, who do you think had the most impact on the state’s agriculture industry?
LeMieux: Douglas Dummett.
FFVA: What insight from the book can you share with the FFVA farmers?
LeMieux: Florida is an amazing, diverse place. Broken off from the United States, Florida would be the 17th largest economy in the world. Nearly a thousand people move to Florida every year. We are very blessed.
7 questions with FFVA’s Mike Joyner
Vegetable Growers News - July 17, 2019
The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association named Mike Joyner as the organization’s president in October 2018. He succeeded longtime FFVA president Mike Stuart.
Joyner’s experience in agricultural and environmental issues runs deep. Before joining FFVA, he served as assistant commissioner of agriculture and chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, helping to lead the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for almost eight years. Before that, Joyner represented clients throughout Florida and the United States before the Florida Legislature and state regulatory agencies. He also served in public affairs and environmental affairs positions for The St. Joe Company and Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) and worked as chief of staff for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Mike is uniquely equipped to lead FFVA into the future,” FFVA Chairman Paul R. Orsenigo said at the time of Joyner’s appointment.
“Given his experience and leadership in Florida agriculture, he has a keen grasp of the issues that Florida producers face in growing and marketing their crops,” Orsenigo said. “We’re looking forward to having him at the helm of our association.”
“I’m excited to join this association, which I’ve admired for many years,” Joyner said. “The positive influence that FFVA’s advocacy work has had on public policy is impressive. There are challenges ahead for agriculture, which means that advocacy is more important than ever.”
Joyner is a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, food and resource economics. He and his wife, Alicia, have two daughters.
Outgoing FFVA President Mike Stuart stayed on board for a brief transition period before his retirement, Orsenigo said.
“Mike’s tireless efforts and contributions on behalf of specialty crop agriculture in Florida and nationally have been monumental,” said outgoing Stuart, who served in the role for 26 years. “We’re grateful for his leadership, talents, integrity and coalition stewardship over the years. Our volunteer leaders are committed to providing a smooth succession to new leadership.”
Here are Joyner’s answers to some questions from Vegetable Growers News:
1. What are the best words of advice you’ve ever received?
As important as what we do is how we do it.
2. What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Get into the fields and listen to the growers. Learn their challenges, their priorities, find out how FFVA can add value and learn what their expectations are for the FFVA and for me.
Build and strengthen relationships with the other agricultural organizations in Florida and throughout the country. The many challenges we face in agriculture will be solved by working together, shoulder-to-shoulder in coalitions with other agricultural organizations.
Continue the work started many years ago by FFVA to find a near-term solution to stop the unfair trade practices from Mexico’s fruit and vegetable industry Because the original NAFTA failed to provide the specialty crop producers in the Southeast with fair recourse against Mexico’s unfair pricing practices, the hemorrhaging losses and farm closures in the Southeast are now reaching a tipping point. The Southeast produce industry’s survival depends heavily on a solution in the near term that is durable, transcends administrations, and is statutory and effective.
Continuing to work on a federal solution to address the growing concern with the lack of qualified farm labor.
3. What do you do to relax?
Spending time with my wife and two adult daughters at the beach or in the North Carolina mountains. I also enjoy gardening, biking and bird hunting.
4. What would you like to be your lasting legacy?
That I was honest, tried to always do what is right, that I led with character, mentored those around me, that I was intentional with my time and that I was a good son, husband, father and friend.
5. What are the top things on your bucket list?
I would like to be a volunteer park ranger in Yellowstone or Grand Tetons National Park after retirement.
6. What job or work would you have pursued if you had not been in the fruit and vegetable industry?
I would like to have been a farmer and rancher. If not that, a hospital administrator. The positive impact you can have on others is significant.
7. What is the one truth you’ve learned about the fruit and vegetable industry?
The women and men who make up this industry have been called to feed the world. They are proud of their calling. They understand that responsibility and they are great stewards, honest, hardworking and humble. They are servant leaders.
Vanilla breeding proves to be complex challenge
By Vicky Boyd
To the home or commercial baker, adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract to a recipe may seem like a simple task. But to Alan Chambers, a University of Florida assistant professor of genetics and tropical fruit breeding, vanilla – and the plant from which it is derived -- is anything but simple.
Chambers is leading a team at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead that is teasing out the complexities of vanilla genetics and will use that knowledge to breed hybrids suitable for South Florida. Their goal also includes developing cultural practices to help producers get into what Chambers believes could be a niche industry.
“My vision is to support growers who want to try something new and exciting,” he said. “I think demand will always outpace supply, so growers will be able to choose among multiple markets, from tourism to retail to supplying local industries like breweries. I’ve already had a few industries reach out inquiring where they can buy local beans. We’re just not there yet.”
Strict definition of vanilla extract
Madagascar and Mexico are the largest producers of vanilla in the world, and the United States is the largest importer.
To avoid adulteration, the vanilla extract standard of identity excludes all species except for Vanilla planifolia and V. x tahitensis from being labeled as such. Some countries also grow V. pompona.
Four vanilla species are native to Florida, and a few hobbyists currently propagate them, Chambers said. Although they may not have a desirable flavor, at least one is resistant to Fusarium, the most damaging fungal disease of vanilla. Through crossbreeding, he hopes to transfer that genetic resistance.
“So there are some real opportunities to prevent the risk from the pathogen,” said Chambers, who is based at the Tropical Research and Education Center.
But he also is thinking outside of the proverbial box when it comes to breeding new hybrids.
“My big focus is consumer perception,” he said. “Would the consumer avoid a vanilla extract if it were a hybrid between V. planifolia and V. pompona because of a regulatory definition, or does this actually create a niche for local growers to produce something special that consumers also love because of its quality?”
A genetic fingerprint
The researchers are two years into their long-term effort. As part of that, they sequenced the vanilla genome, creating a sort of genetic fingerprint.
“Almost everyone who’s growing vanilla commercially is growing something that’s genetically similar,” Chambers said. “All of these may be susceptible to the same diseases.”
To that end, Chambers and Elias Bassil, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences assistant professor of plant physiology, have amassed a collection of about 200 unique vanilla lines that can be used to breed hybrids.
Using traditional techniques, breeders develop hybrids by crossing two distinct species that may not reproduce in the wild. The offspring typically have better vigor – known as hybrid vigor – or other improved characteristics compared to each parent.
Chambers already has made a few hybrid crosses and has harvested the resulting beans. Unlike green snap beans or even soybeans, vanilla beans first must be cured before an extract can be made. Curing involves killing the vegetative tissue within the bean, sweating the bean, and then slowly drying it and conditioning it – a process that can take up to nine months.
It is the extract, typically made by immersing the bean in alcohol, that’s used as flavoring.
Chamber’s first bottle of extract is sitting on his desk, and he’s eager to taste it. As he discussed the initial crosses, Chambers talked of anise characteristics or marshmallow flavor notes produced by some of the different vanilla varieties.
He also plans to enlist trained tasting panels, consumer tasting panels and industry representatives to evaluate extracts made from his crosses.
Moving to the field
As tropical orchids, vanilla vines prefer indirect sunlight and require something on which to climb. This trait lends itself to co-cropping with mangoes, avocados or other tropical fruit crops, Chambers said. Much like the other tropical fruits with which Chambers works, vanilla is sensitive to temperatures below freezing.
The researchers recently established a field trial at the research center where vanilla vines will be grown on trellises under the shade of palm trees, which offers an efficient production system.
As part of the long-term project, the researchers want to optimize growing practices. How much irrigation should be applied, and how important is irrigation timing? What about vine nutritional requirements, and does slow-release fertilizer work better than regular fertilizer? Does foliar nutrition have a place? Even the color of shade cloth, should it be used to diffuse sunlight, could possibly affect plant growth.
“There are so many questions we need to get to,” Chambers said.
Register today for our 76th annual convention
FFVA 2019 is right around the corner. We’ve put together a great schedule of Issues Forums, top-notch speakers, networking and fun. If you haven’t already registered for the event, set for Sept. 24-26, do it today at ffva.com/convention.
We’ll tackle timely topics in our breakout sessions. Water quality is top of mind these days, and after last year’s outbreaks of blue-green algae and red tide, efforts are underway to address the causes and take steps to prevent the events of last summer from happening again. One Issues Forum will feature a panel of experts discussing the need for workable solutions to reduce nutrients in our waterways and how we can work together to find answers.
Access to a stable, legal workforce is a never-ending concern for producers. Craig Regelbrugge of American Hort and the National Council of Agriculture Employers will discuss how our industry is strategizing to make sure the administration understands our unique workforce needs.
The convention also will feature an outstanding keynote speaker. During the traditional Cracker Breakfast, we’ll hear from former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, author of “Florida Made: The 25 Most Important Figures Who Shaped the State.” How appropriate that the No. 1 person on his list is Henry Flagler, who developed Palm Beach and built The Breakers, site of the convention. Another highlight will be Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who will offer her take on the state of the industry during the closing luncheon.
New this year is a leadership forum featuring a moderated panel of industry veterans talking about leadership strategies that have helped guide their business and offering their perspectives to the next generation of up-and-coming leaders. You won’t want to miss this discussion and the opportunity to meet current members and graduates of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program.
In between sessions, there will be ample opportunity for networking with colleagues and connecting with our outstanding sponsors. The Florida Specialty Crop Foundation will offer a silent auction with loads of great items such as travel packages, fashion and jewelry, artwork, wine selections and more. Proceeds will benefit several of the Foundation’s priorities, including FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. The closing dinner with music and dancing also will feature a spirited live auction.
To kick off the convention on Sept. 24, golfers can hit the fairways at the Ocean Course. Anglers will be treated to a great fishing excursion inland for the popular peacock bass.
To see more about the convention and to register, go to ffva.com/convention . You also can download our mobile app by searching on “FFVA” in the Apple Store or Google Play. We look forward to seeing you in Palm Beach!
Reaching farther in the search for algae solutions
By Jack Payne
There’s an allegory about the drunk man who lost his car keys. A police officer finds him searching under a streetlight. The officer helps in the search and then asks the inebriate if he’s sure that he lost them near the streetlight.
The drunk man replies that he lost his keys across the street, but is searching near the streetlight because he can see better underneath it.
The “streetlight effect” is the tendency to search for something primarily where it’s easiest to look. For nutrient sources that feed algae blooms, farms have been an easy place to look.
In part because of efforts to monitor the effects of best management practices, we have years of data that measure the phosphorus and nitrogen loads running off agricultural fields. The good news is that although more work is needed, we have information on what practices reduce nutrient losses.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences envisions a much broader search. We need a better handle on the nutrients emanating from all known sources, including septic tanks, lawns, and urban areas.
UF/IFAS has recently launched its Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, the brainchild of the late Karl Havens, who directed Florida Sea Grant. He was such a respected expert on algae blooms that Gov. DeSantis had appointed Havens to the state’s new Blue-Green Algae Task Force before Haven's untimely passing in late April.
The governor also appointed Wendy Graham, a UF/IFAS faculty member who heads the UF Water Institute, to his task force. And the task force will be led by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and by Tom Frazer, who had been director of the UF/IFAS School of Natural Resources and the Environment, whom the governor recently hired as Florida’s first-ever chief science officer.
Never before have we organized our algae experts into a statewide team.
The UF/IFAS team also includes Graham and veteran algae hand Ed Phlips. Michael Dukes, director of the Center for Land Use Efficiency, and Ruth Francis-Floyd from the College of Veterinary Medicine are on board.
The team also includes Sherry Larkin, associate dean of UF/IFAS research, whose expertise in economic impacts on agricultural and natural resources systems can help get at the feasibility of a given course of action.
Ramesh Reddy, who has decades of experience collaborating with the state’s water management districts on water quality issues, brings history and expertise to the team.
We’ve also made exciting recent hires of scientists who show promise in contributing to the search for solutions. Willm Martens-Habbena in Fort Lauderdale uses microbial ecology to examine how microorganisms affect the location and intensity of algal blooms. Young Gu Her in Homestead specializes in simulating and monitoring the generation and transport of water and nutrients in stormwater, groundwater and nonpoint source pollutants. Dail Laughinghouse in Fort Lauderdale is an algae scientist.
The state and university task forces will likely coordinate the search for what’s causing harmful algal blooms, what the effects are, and what do about it. Our approach is to take as comprehensive a look as possible. That means continuing to measure nutrient loads from farms.
It also means using agriculture as a model for other sectors. What we’ve learned about measuring water quality on and near farms we hope to apply in greater detail in our cities and neighborhoods. Larkin, who is leading Florida Sea Grant on an interim basis, intends to continue on that track. She has also begun building on Havens' preliminary work on a state budget request for next year.
What positions UF/IFAS as the logical go-to science source to address blue-green algae is not just its in-house expertise. We partner with water management districts, state and federal agencies and non-profit groups on water quality issues.
Havens established that a critical need is to determine the contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus from primary sources in agricultural, industrial, residential and urban settings.
It doesn’t make sense to look in just the easiest place to detect nutrient loads. But it takes a strong team with special vision to search in the harder-to-see places. The UF/IFAS algae vision is the product of experts from multiple locations, scientific specialties and generations.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Hemp bill plows the ground for a potential new crop for Florida farms
By Mick Lochridge
A new bill that would allow Florida farmers to grow industrial hemp could herald an innovative era of agriculture in the Sunshine State.
Outlawed by drug laws for years, hemp production may hold promise for citrus growers hit hard by citrus greening and for vegetable farmers looking for another crop to bolster their bottom line.
“As both our environment and economy change and trade wars continue, our farmers are asking for alternative crops,” said Florida Director of Cannabis Holly Bell. “Hemp has the potential to become one of the crops of the future for Florida agriculture.”
With a chemical makeup different from medical and recreational marijuana, the low-THC Cannabis sativa has potential applications for thousands of products such as fiber for clothing, building materials, cattle feed and pain-relieving CBD oil.
With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, the industrial hemp law will clear the way for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to draw up rules and regulations to implement it. That plan must submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval, and there would be an opportunity for public comment.
Many issues must first be sorted out, including a process for awarding permits to growers, identifying processors that can turn hemp into products and – perhaps most important – how to best help farmers produce a viable, profitable crop.
In anticipation of the new law, agriculture researchers already had started working to determine what it takes for hemp to thrive in Florida’s environment. A two-year project under way by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences seeks answers to a long list of production issues, including pest and disease control, fertilizer, growing seasons and varieties.
To gauge interest among Florida’s farmers, IFAS researchers have met with farmers and are holding workshops for more discussion and updates about hemp production.
Blue Sky Farms owner Danny Johns, who grows potatoes on 600 acres near St. Augustine, sees opportunity in hemp. “I have found that the one constant in farming is change, so we are always looking for potential alternative crops,” he said.
Turning that hope into reality is one of Bell’s key objectives.
“Florida’s deep agriculture heritage and resources, along with the farming infrastructure that exists today, make it an ideal place for hemp,” she said.
“By breaking into this market early, Florida can become a leading producer of a crop with about 25,000 known uses. And with CBD products currently outselling THC products at a rate of 10-to-1, this crop has the potential to significantly elevate our quality of life and strengthen and diversify our state economy for generations to come.”
Bell comes to Florida with experience helping other states join the hemp industry. In Tennessee, she worked to build the infrastructure to support the creation of that state’s cannabis industry after passage of its industrial hemp legislation.
“One of the main things was helping companies access banking and basic financial services,” she said. “Regardless of how great your product is, if you do not have access to financial services like other industries, you will struggle to grow.”
“In Tennessee, I was at the forefront of helping the industry get off the ground and establish banking systems. I’ve also worked on the issues in other states,” said Bell, whose previous career was in banking and financial services. A native of Indiana with family roots in northeast Florida, Bell earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University.
Farm bill clears the way
All of this hemp talk is possible because of significant changes in the 2018 Farm Bill that redefined hemp as an agricultural commodity and removed it from the list of controlled substances. The bill also directed the USDA to establish a process to regulate hemp at the state level through each state’s agriculture department.
Acting on that, the Florida Legislature easily passed the agriculture hemp bill in the session that just ended. Senators voted 39-0 to pass the bill after the House approved it in a 112-1 vote. The law, if signed by DeSantis, will take effect July 1.
Now FDACS will create the rules “to implement the new statutes, which will provide the public the opportunity for public comments. Once the rules have been adopted, producers will be able to apply for permits to grow hemp,” said Max Flugrath, department spokesman.
He added that the department will work with the farming industry on the regulations.
For farmers interested in growing hemp, the department has some advice: “Educating yourself is key to success,” Flugrath said. “Visiting another state and farms where hemp is grown is a good idea.”
Research to answer questions
There are many questions still to be answered to determine whether hemp can be a viable crop in Florida. The UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project is working to identify varieties and planting recommendations that can be environmentally responsible and profitable for growers, said Dr. Zachary Brym, the project coordinator.
“Florida's climate and markets are very different from other places growing and selling hemp,” he wrote on the IFAS website at programs.ifas.ufl.edu/hemp. “Most hemp seed and plant materials on the market are adapted to those places, so we have to start with variety trials to find marketable hemp that grows well in Florida’s diverse soils, climates, latitudes.
“Economic research is being conducted to find the input costs of growing hemp, expectations of hemp’s market value, and a break-even point to recommend when hemp is an ideal crop. Additionally, we are conducting a study for risk of invasiveness.”
Dr. Ruth Borger, assistant vice president for IFAS Communications, added that researchers will grow different varieties of hemp at several research locations.
Researchers also will need to know “how to grow hemp so it’s not high-THC like recreational and medical marijuana,” she said.
This is a good time for Florida to consider hemp as a farm crop, she said, “because there is a growing interest across the nation.”
“We are always looking to expand Florida’s competitiveness in agriculture,” she said. But, she added, “We can’t tell you if it’s a good investment” until the trials end.
Cannabis boss Bell said hemp proved to be successful in other states where she was involved.
“In other states, farmers have grown from one acre up to hundreds for CBD production and made significant returns on even the small grows,” she said “The average acreage grown per farmer I saw in the last two years was about five acres. Farmers in other states make over $20,000 on one acre. So the amount of land needed is minimal if you are willing to do the work.”
Potato farmer Danny Johns, an FFVA producer member and member of the board of directors, said he is already thinking of when his farm could grow a hemp crop. “One potential scenario would be to follow the harvest of our potato crop with hemp as a secondary crop and potential paycheck.”
He noted, “Florida's climate should be a good fit for hemp production. We will need to find the right strains of hemp to maximize oil production while not spiking the THC over 0.3 percent, which is illegal to produce.”
“As with other new crops, there will be a learning curve on its cultivation as well as the added legal hurdles that will need to be navigated,” Johns said. “The projections on demand are definitely garnering attention, and who better than Florida growers to fill that market?”
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. They are legally distinguished based on their THC content. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound associated with getting high. Hemp is Cannabis sativa with a THC content that does not exceed 0.3% by dry weight, while marijuana is Cannabis sativa with a THC content greater than 0.3 %. The 0.3% threshold is defined by state and federal laws.
Cannabis also contains CBD (cannabinoid), a compound that does not produce any psychoactive effects but has several well-established medical purposes. Some hemp and marijuana have a high concentration of CBD. The strains of marijuana sold in medical dispensaries are typically more CBD-dominant.
For more information about the Hemp Pilot Project, visit: programs.ifas.ufl.edu/hemp.
For the love of agriculture
Why do those of us in agriculture do what we do?
For some it’s a calling. For others it’s their family heritage. For everyone, it’s an opportunity to help put nutritious food on Americans’ plates.
Regardless of our motivation, a love of agriculture is the common thread that unites us across different ages, locations and crops.
In our latest social media campaign featuring Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association members (#FortheLoveofAg), we gave consumers a closer look into the lives of farmers. We asked producers and those in businesses that support agriculture what is so rewarding about their livelihood. The responses were as varied as FFVA’s membership. Some talked about meeting the daily challenges of planting, harvesting and marketing their crops. Others reflected on what makes a good day on the farm.
Blueberry and citrus producer Chuck Allison of Wild Goose Farms talked about gratitude and the blessings of farming. “A good day on the farm is when everything's running smoothly, and you slow down long enough to realize what a blessing God has given you,” he said. “And in that moment you realize how grateful you are to be able to farm on productive land, to work with great people, and to produce a crop that’s healthy and nutritious.”
Some spoke of the joy of working outdoors. Tomato grower Tony DiMare of DiMare Fresh put it this way: “Being outside in the fresh air and Florida sunshine watching crops grow and producing a bountiful crop is exciting to me. Knowing that you’re producing a healthy and nutritious product to feed people in this country is very gratifying.”
For Alan Jones, who grows potatoes and green beans on Jones Potato Farm, sharing the farming experience with his family is especially gratifying. “Some of best days on the farm are on Sundays when you get a chance to sit back and look at what’s happening,” he explains. “There’s so much effort that goes into what we do, so my favorite days on the farm are when you can sit back with your family and just take it all in.”
#FortheLoveofAg also serves to remind the public that farmers and agriculture constituents protect our food supply and work hard daily despite ongoing challenges to feed the public nutritious foods. We hope consumers will feel more emotionally connected to Florida agriculture after seeing why farmers do what they do.
Read more about why our members love agriculture here . And let us know why you do, too, by sending an email and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida peach industry relies on education and familiarity
By Vicky Boyd
Florida peaches don’t have the same name recognition among consumers and retailers as Georgia peaches. However, the Florida industry – with the help of two Specialty Crop Block Grants – hopes to change that by educating buyers about the unique virtues of locally grown peaches.
For the industry to grow, researchers say they also will have to figure out how to overcome erratic chill hours, develop cost-saving mechanical pruning and thinning methods, and breed new rootstocks that can tolerate flooded conditions.
The Florida Specialty Crop Foundation is leading the educational effort.
Guided by a peach advisory board, the program has three objectives: to increase awareness and sales at retailers, collaborate with the Fresh From Florida program for in-store sampling and promotional materials, and increase social media presence, said foundation Executive Director Sonia Tighe.
The effort, which began in earnest in 2017, was funded for the first two years by a $148,955 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant. The foundation successfully applied for a second USDA grant of $249,367 to continue peach promotional efforts during 2019 and 2020.
The Florida peach crop typically ripens from mid-March through the end of May, depending on the weather. This allows Florida growers to essentially have the market to themselves after Chile has finished and before the Georgia and Carolina crops begin.
“So we have the opportunity to supply peaches when retailers can’t get them anywhere else,” she said.
Florida peach packer/shippers send their fruit as far north as Canada and as far west as Texas, but most are sold in the Southeast.
A friendly reminder
Despite being in the third year of the marketing program, Tighe said, the state’s peach industry continues to remind retailers of its fruit’s unique properties.
“We still have to educate them on the season, what the peach looks like and what the flavor is,” Tighe said.
Florida peaches differ from fruit produced farther north: It’s smaller and has a deep red color. But the diminutive size also is a strong selling point.
“They’re the perfect snack size for kids and for school lunches,” Tighe said. “They’re also a fit for the Farm to School Program because the size meets the USDA requirements.”
The Florida Specialty Crop Foundation is working with the Fresh From Florida program on in-store sampling programs, which have seen huge responses.
“The flavor is so unique that it really helps sell the fruit,” Tighe said.
A Canadian grocery chain that conducted sampling, for example, saw sales increase 319 percent from the week before.
This year, Tighe said a major chain conducted sampling in as many as 50 of its Florida stores during Easter week. Fresh From Florida also helps distribute point-of-sale materials to retailers and puts its logo on the POS promotions and advertising.
Dundee Citrus Growers Association has been producing and marketing Florida peaches for the past 10 years. Even so, CEO Steven Callaham said consumers and retailers still must be reminded of the state’s peach industry “and that we can grow a very tasty peach. That’s the big goal – just trying to expand the awareness in the marketplace,” he said.
Dundee packs peaches in single-layer 8-pound trays, 20-pound bulk boxes for food service. New this year are clear 2-pound stand-up pouches that create eye-catching retail displays.
When the marketing program first started, the peach advisory board recommended an Instagram and Facebook presence but voted against a website. This year, Tighe said, they also will work with five food bloggers who will develop recipes and help promote Florida peaches to their followers.
The social media campaigns are heavy January through May to drive consumers to retailers when the peaches are in season. However, Tighe said the group tries to maintain a presence year-round so consumers don’t forget about Florida peaches.
Research addresses production challenges
Florida producers typically grow four low-chill varieties, all developed by the University of Florida: UFSun, UFGem, Tropic Beauty and UFBest.
As low-chill varieties, they require at least 100 to 200 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees to put them into winter dormancy. Without that dormancy, bloom can be weak and strung out, flower health can be compromised and fruit quality can be affected.
One of the issues peach growers have experienced recently is erratic chilling due to climate change, said Ali Sarkhosh, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science assistant professor and Extension specialist. Such was the case during the 2015-16 winter, when Indian River and Polk counties only experienced about 60 chill hours. During 2017-18, chilling returned and Indian River County had about 140 hours and Polk County had 163 hours.
Sarkhosh is working on some small-scale projects that examine whether plant growth regulators or fertilizers may help reset the trees’ internal clocks during years with fewer chill hours.
“We want to see if we can push these trees that receive the lowest chilling to flower,” he said. “The best situation is we would have our peaches in full bloom from the second to third week in January and we can harvest them the first of April.” He added that he hopes funding will come through to allow him to expand the project.
Managing erratic chill hours is part of his short-term research effort because if growers can’t overcome that challenge, mid- and long-term research goals may be moot.
“This is one of the fundamental problems,” Sarkhosh said. “If we can solve this problem, all of the other things would be fairly easy to adapt.”
In the future, he said, he hopes to look at mechanical thinning and pruning machines used elsewhere to see if they can be adapted to Florida growing conditions. To be successful, Sarkhosh said, growers may need to adopt different tree training methods.
Mechanization will help peach growers reduce thinning and pruning costs, which can run $1,000 to $2,000 per acre per season.
Long term, he added, the industry needs news rootstocks that tolerate wet soil conditions. Currently, most trees are grafted on Flordaguard, a UF rootstock with resistance to peach root-knot nematodes. Trees couldn’t tolerate the standing water left after Hurricane Irma caused significant damage. Some growers lost all of their trees.
“We’re trying some peach and plum rootstocks to see which one can tolerate flooding,” he said. Should they identify a candidate, breeders will use classical methods to cross it with Flordaguard to develop a rootstock that can tolerate both issues. The breeding effort could take five to 10 years before a new commercial rootstock is available for the state’s peach growers, Sarkhosh said.
Critical issues keep FFVA working hard for members
Specialty crop producers’ plates are full when it comes to issues that create challenges to planting and harvesting their crops. And that means FFVA’s plate is full as well. The association has been engaged on numerous fronts both in Tallahassee and in Washington on behalf of its members. Here’s a rundown of a few of the issues we’re working on:
Trade relief for producers in the Southeast
FFVA is strongly supporting the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act, which would provide critical trade relief measures for specialty crop growers who are harmed by cheap Mexican product flooding the U.S. market during Florida’s growing season. President Mike Joyner and a contingent of other agriculture representatives visited several members of Florida’s congressional delegation recently to urge them to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill, which initially was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Vern Buchanan and Al Lawson. Trade reform for specialty crop growers was dropped from the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement during final negotiations, so growers are seeking critically needed relief in the legislative process.
The legislation guarantees specialty crop growers the same protections available to other agriculture sectors and reflects the direction given by Congress under Trade Promotion Authority. It will provide a mechanism to help Florida’s farmers compete on fair terms and stay in business.
Lake Okeechobee water level
FFVA has joined numerous other agricultural organizations and business groups in expressing grave concerns over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ potential decision to lower the level of Lake Okeechobee to 10.5 feet. In a recent letter to the Corps, the groups strongly objected to the move, saying it would cause dire environmental and economic consequences. FFVA has called on its members to urge the Corps to rethink its decision. In the letter to the Corps, the group said, “The South Florida region has lived through prior agency decisions to lower the Lake in the dry season in anticipation of wet season rain that never came. Severe economic and environmental consequences resulted from those decisions. Many have experienced the harsh reality of gambling on Mother Nature and being wrong.”
The groups “strenuously” requested that the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District stop discharges to lower the lake level and then work together to develop a new program to manage the lake levels.
Rules for truckers hauling fresh produce
New transportation regulations are causing major difficulties for growers, handlers and shippers of fresh fruits and vegetables. So FFVA and 25 other agriculture associations have filed a petition to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s Department of Transportation urging changes in the Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rules specifically for perishable fruits and vegetables. The petition emphasizes that to ensure public and driver safety, consumer safety and produce quality, rules governing driver on-duty hours for truckers hauling perishable fruits and vegetable should be modified as soon as possible.
The agricultural groups asked for two changes immediately: an allowance for drivers to rest at any point during their trip without counting this rest time against their HOS allotments, and exclusion of time spent loading and unloading from the HOS calculations. The letter states that revisions to the current Sleeper Beth Provisions, which allow for drivers to coordinate their sleep within allowable time slots, will address these concerns.
Additionally, the groups underscore the importance of aligning transportation rules with the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Rule, which spells out food safety requirements.
The decision to file a petition grew out of concerns raised by members of FFVA's Supply Chain Management Committee last year with the implementation of the new rule. Committee Chairman Jeff Goodale, along with FFVA Chairman Paul Allen, FFVA President Mike Joyner, and FFVA Science and Regulatory Affairs Director Mike Aerts took those concerns to Washington, D.C. in January and met with Raymond Martinez, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Working with members of the Supply Chain Management Committee and grower associations throughout the country, FFVA prepared the petition for submission. Read the petition letter here.
On April 1, the U.S. secretary of transportation announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the HOS reform.
Florida farmers join the fight against hunger
By Mick Lochridge
For a quarter of a century, R.C. Hatton Farms has given back to its South Florida community by helping to feed the hungry.
Working with several organizations, the company each year donates more than 40,000 pounds of fresh produce – primarily cabbage, beans and corn.
“Donating food shows the heart of the agriculture community in that we feed our country and every segment of the population, even those who cannot pay for it,” said Paul Allen, vice president and co-owner of the company.
R.C. Hatton is one of more than 100 Florida farms that participate in the state’s Food Recovery Program, which is administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Farmers participate in the program in two ways. They donate surplus and slightly blemished produce to local volunteer and nonprofit organizations for distribution to those in need. Farmers also help the program by allowing volunteers to glean leftover produce from their fields rather than turning it under, according to Melanie Mason, food recovery specialist with FDACS.
For gleaning, R.C. Hatton partners with CROS Ministries (Christians Reaching Out to Society), which is based in Lake Worth and serves the hungry in Palm Beach and Martin counties. CROS volunteers routinely harvest leftover produce during the season, according to Allen, who also is board chairman for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. Based in Pahokee, R.C. Hatton farms 12,000 acres in South Florida and Georgia. It grows cabbage, corn, sugar cane and green beans.
Created by the Florida Legislature in 1994, the Food Recovery Program is a coordinated effort involving FDACS, Florida farmers, wholesalers, retailers, community action agencies and other food relief agencies. Food recovery helps to supplement federal food assistance programs by making better use of a food source that already exists, Mason said. Farmers who donate produce may qualify for a tax deduction.
“Millions of pounds of surplus and slightly blemished fresh fruit and vegetables are destroyed each year, while many residents of this state go each day without food,” states the Florida law that created the program. “Food recovery programs can beneficially aid residents of this state who lack the means to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables by providing such surplus food to governmental agencies and local volunteer and nonprofit organizations for distribution to those in need, rather than continuing to see it destroyed.”
In 2017, FDACS added the gleaning initiative, which works directly with farmers and volunteers. Generally, farmers contact FDACS when there is leftover produce in their fields. A nonprofit organization then is identified near the farm with the ability to harvest and distribute the quantity being donated.
Once the farm and nonprofit organization have been identified, volunteers go to the farm to glean. FDACS has partnered with a nonprofit gleaning organization to ensure the gleaners are trained and for liability waivers, Mason said.
The produce then is trucked to a nonprofit organization, which distributes it.
“Some large farms donate 5,000 pounds or more per glean, which is more than most food pantries can receive,” Mason said. “Therefore, their donations often go to larger food banks that have greater warehousing capacity. Smaller farmers will often work with their local food pantries as there is a smaller quantity to distribute.”
In 2018, the Food Recovery Program recovered 38.8 million pounds of produce. Since November 2017, 140,000 pounds of Florida produce have been recovered through the gleaning initiative, she added.
In addition to the more than 100 farms that participate in the overall program on an annual basis, seven have participated in the gleaning initiative. Mason said a number of other farms are planning for the 2019-2020 gleaning season that runs from November to April.
Donated produce ranges from “avocado to zucchini,” she said. Other produce includes cabbage, watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, bok choy, satsumas, celery, collard greens and field peas. Lettuce is the most common type of produce donated through gleaning.
The state’s Food Recovery Program is not the only effort in Florida through which farmers can help feed the hungry. Feeding Florida, a statewide network of food banks, created Farmers Feeding Florida to recover and donate wholesome but unmarketable produce. It operates a fleet of more than 160 refrigerated trucks to transport donated produce statewide. There’s also FarmShare, which helped the Food Recovery Program distribute more than 16,000 pounds of satsuma in Gadsden County last December, Mason said. “I work with any non-profit food distribution agency interested in engaging in food recovery,” she added.
“Feeding Florida can arrange to have donations picked up within 48 hours of your call, freeing up valuable cooler and dock space at your facility. With one call to our logistics department, your questions can be answered and your donation arranged,” Sherri Atwell, director of produce recovery for Feeding Florida, said on the organization’s website.
The state supports those efforts to feed the hungry. “FDACS encourages all of the work being done by Florida food banks to reduce food waste. Our goal is to continue to move recovered, wholesome produce out of the fields and into these distribution agencies,” Mason said.
At R.C. Hatton Farms, that desire to help those in need was the genesis of its donations program started by co-owner Roger Hatton. In addition to CROS Ministries, the farm donates produce to a food kitchen in Belle Glade and to the Dunklin Memorial Camp in Okeechobee, Paul Allen said.
“We wanted to supply good quality food for the homeless,” Allen said. “We just see it as a different market, one that is just paid for in a different way.”
How you can help
Visit the Food Recovery Program and Farmers Feeding Florida websites for more information.
Florida's food safety is the result of many, but one shines in the spotlight
By Jack Payne
FFVA board member and tomato producer Tony DiMare can rattle off foodborne illness outbreaks by commodity, year and state.
He can’t name any recent outbreaks in Florida tomatoes. The accident-free run is itself no accident, DiMare insists, but the result of a commitment to food safety science and industry-wide participation in prevention programs.
In a letter he wrote earlier this year, DiMare singled out a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences expert for his contributions to Florida’s winning streak. The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association acted on that letter and others like it by naming Dr. Keith Schneider as FFVA researcher of the year at their annual convention in 2018.
Awards by their nature focus on a single person. So do nomination letters like that from Sue Percival, chair of the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department and Schneider’s boss. Percival notes that there have been no foodborne outbreaks since Tomato Good Agricultural Practices (T-GAP) began.
“Who can count how many outbreaks have not occurred because of his research and extension programs?” Percival wrote.
Schneider points out that it’s hard to conclude that one program is responsible for the absence of foodborne illness, but he will continue to champion T-GAP.
DiMare explained that Florida food safety is the result of many people’s efforts. Schneider, DiMare says, symbolizes an entire team’s efforts, and in highlighting food safety science, FFVA is also honoring all who have played key roles in food safety programs. Among those DiMare mentions are former Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences and UF/IFAS legend Martha Roberts, and Pacific Tomato Growers CEO Billy Heller, both of whom nominated Schneider for the FFVA award.
When FFVA presented Schneider with a crystal trophy on stage in Naples in September at the annual convention, it marked a celebration of a community’s success, not just Schneider’s.
Schneider, too, is quick to share credit with the same folks DiMare mentions. He praises the efforts of his colleague Michelle Danyluk, another UF/IFAS food scientist. He also regards his wife, Renee Goodrich, a UF/IFAS food scientist whom he met at a Salmonella training, as an essential UF/IFAS team member. He also credits the network of UF/IFAS Extension agents around the state for making safety a priority.
Schneider regards DiMare and Heller as influential pioneers in food safety awareness who encouraged their industry peers to invest more in the proper handling of food along the entire supply chain.
Schneider has distinguished himself with a work ethic. He averages an out-of-town trip every week to train industry members. He has made a number of middle-of-the-night drives to get back to Gainesville to teach. His students have gone on to work for the Food and Drug Administration and major food companies.
Meanwhile, Schneider continues to research Salmonella and other microbes on tomatoes both in his lab and in packing facilities that DiMare and other industry partners make available to him around the state.
Schneider credits industry buy-in for making it possible for his work to have an impact.
When Schneider started talking about food safety in 2002, it was a painful message to hear, that if proper care wasn’t taken, customers would get sick. Schneider acknowledged that he could sound preachy in the early days.
He had more success when he changed his approach. Early on he would say these food safety recommendations are going to be mandates. It’s better to have those mandates reflect current industry practices than have regulators order changes in the way you do business. Just as important as whatever laws will go on the books, Schneider said, is that buyers are going to demand it.
In 2008, the association agreed and helped write legislation that mandated safety measures in the tomato industry. It was an act of self-policing in response to market forces over which they had little control, but a way to design their response.
Florida tomato growers got a lesson in how high the stakes were that same year. Tomatoes got initially and incorrectly blamed for an outbreak that made dozens of people sick.
Despite a correction that the source of the sickness was neither from Florida nor definitively associated with tomatoes (it was ultimately traced to serrano and jalapeño peppers from Mexico), the damage was done. Confused consumers avoided tomatoes, and it cost the industry $100 million.
A decade later, FFVA has taken the conversation about food safety out of the shadows and into the spotlight like the one that shone on Schneider in Naples.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
New board member plays key roles in strawberry farming, Florida ag issues
By Mick Lochridge
Michelle Williamson, who grew up in the winter strawberry capital of the world, has stayed true to her roots. Manager of G&F Farms in Dover, the 55-year-old Williamson married into the berry business in 1982 and has since cultivated a deep knowledge of the industry and earned the respect of fellow farmers in Florida agriculture.
Over the years, she has served on a number of boards and associations that deal with agriculture issues. She recently joined the board of directors for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, a position where she wants to make a difference.
“I hope that we can come up with a way to advocate for agriculture with our consumers and lawmakers so that we can continue to provide food and fiber for consumers,” she said of her new appointment. “I also hope that we may be able to find new markets to replace markets that Florida growers are losing.”
Born in Dallas, Williamson grew up in Plant City, home of the annual Florida Strawberry Festival. After graduating from Plant City High School, she married Marcus Williamson, whose parents Glenn and Frances started G&F Farms in 1952.
Today G&F Farms and Fran Berry Farms, also family-owned in Dover, plant a total of 95 acres in strawberries, producing about 30,000 pounds per acre for the California-based Driscoll’s company, according to Williamson.
“We grow only Driscoll proprietary varieties,” she said. “They have been successful for us. We grow all of our berries exclusively for them.”
Williamson has lived on the family farm for 36 years, raising two daughters with Marcus, who passed away in 2010. Sarah Williams, 32, is the business manager for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, and Samantha Bryant, 30, is the general manager for Home2 Suites in Tampa near the University of South Florida. She has three grandchildren.
In addition to her in-laws, she also works with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law. She said working with family is the most enjoyable part of the job.
“I love the family aspect of the business,” she said.
As farm manager, Williamson oversees the human resources department and the food safety and regulatory compliance programs. The operation employs about 150 workers during peak time.
But she wasn’t always in the office.
“I used to do a little of everything,” she said. “If we were harvesting, I was in the field or in the packing shed packing the fruit. I helped with ground prep, planting and everything that was done on the farm.”
Her farming experience and insight also have provided her with opportunities to contribute to Florida’s overall agriculture industry.
She has served as a board member for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the Florida Farm Bureau state board and the Hillsborough County Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee. In addition, she has served as the state chair and vice chair of the Florida Farm Bureau Women's Leadership Committee, Vegetable Advisory and Labor committees, and the American Farm Bureau Labor Advisory Committee.
She currently serves on the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau board, the Hillsborough Agriculture Economic Development Council and the International Council of Responsible Farming. She also is a member of FFVA’s Workforce Committee.
Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed her in 2016 to the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District representing Hillsborough County. She is board treasurer. Last year U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue appointed her chair of the Florida USDA Farm Service Agency.
In addition to industry involvement, Williamson also has found time to give back to her community through Feeding Tampa Bay and the children’s church at the First Assembly of God in Plant City. She earned an associate degree from Hillsborough Community College and has completed course work toward a bachelor’s degree in management at Polk State College.
Whether in a classroom or a field of strawberries, Williamson continues to learn, to face challenges and to look for answers.
Her experiences with other Florida farmers have taught her valuable lessons.
“While we may grow different crops, we all have the same challenges of urban encroachment, water, labor issues and consumers who don’t understand agriculture,” she said. “Florida growers are facing enormous pressure from imports as well as labor shortages. These are affecting all Florida fruit and vegetable growers.”
Of her new role on the FFVA board, she said: “I have been told I play the devil’s advocate very well. I think sometimes we get tunnel vision when we are with like-minded people. I hope that I can help to create dialogue that will help us come up with meaningful solutions.”
Artichokes could be key to crop diversity for Florida growers
By Vicky Boyd
As a leader of research into growing artichokes in Florida, Shinsuke Agehara isn’t out to dethrone California as the king of artichoke production.
Instead, the assistant horticulture professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences hopes to find a possible profitable alternative to the state’s mainstay vegetable crops.
“Many crops are not doing well,” said Agehara, based at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center near Wimauma. “The tomato growers, the pepper growers, the traditional vegetable growers – are looking for something that can be more profitable for them. I don’t expect this will be a huge industry, but we have to create more diversity.
“We want to find more crops that some growers can switch to. We also want to find higher-value crops. We want to find crops that can take advantage of our warm winter climate, and I think artichokes can be one of them.”
In Florida, peak artichoke production is in January and February, when California is largely out of the market, he said. That could equate to potentially higher prices for producers because of lower supplies.
Artichokes also can be grown using many of the same techniques -- such as in-bed fumigation, drip irrigation and transplants -- traditionally used for tomatoes and peppers.
Agehara is not a newcomer to the edible thistle. As a graduate student at Texas A&M University in Uvalde, he studied the effects of plant growth regulators on several crops, including artichokes.
Along with Hugh Smith, an associate professor of entomology and nematology at the Gulf Coast center, Agehara has been involved in three artichoke research projects funded by Specialty Crop Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and awarded through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Gary England, director of the Hastings Agricultural Extension Center, also has been involved and is in the second year of varietal field trials. The goal is to see how the cooler weather in the northern part of the state affect artichoke production.
Like Agehara, England doesn’t envision Florida being a large artichoke producer, but he hopes the crop could fill a niche.
“I think our opportunities may be filling in that gap when California is out of product or low on product and also for local markets,” England said, referring to grocery retailers who prefer to stock locally grown produce when they can.
A star shines
Agehara’s first trials examined the best variety or varieties for Florida’s growing conditions. Of the six put to the test, Imperial Star, a variety developed by the University of California for production in the Imperial Valley, topped the list. He said the variety takes the least amount of chill hours.
Helping Mother Nature
The second project, which is ongoing, examines optimum rates and timings for gibberilic acid, a naturally occurring plant growth regulator. Agehara is working with ProGibb LV Plus from Valent USA.
The plant growth regulator produces an effect similar to long periods of cold temperatures, forcing artichoke plants to produce buds.
“We have much fewer chill hours than Uvalde – Uvalde actually gets quite a bit of chill hours during the winter. It stays cool and gets cold,” he said. “In our area, chill hours are much more limited, so gibberilic acid application is a must.”
Agehara also found that the rates he studied in Texas weren’t high enough for Florida conditions. His goal is to find the lowest rate that still promotes the maximum amount of bud formation.
Testing agronomic practices
The third project examines different management practices, including planting dates, plant spacings and nitrogen applications. The plots at the Gulf Coast center were prepared using methods common to other vegetable crops, including in-row fumigation applied with drip irrigation under plastic mulch and five-foot bed widths. Agehara applied Goal as a pre-plant herbicide.
The artichoke seeds were sourced from a commercial seed company, then grown for transplants by a local nursery.
For this research, he started transplanting the first week in September and continued putting in plots every two weeks through mid-November. Because of warm fall temperatures, the earlier planting dates put more stress on the young plants. However, Agehara said Imperial Star tolerated the heat and grew the best of the seven varieties tested.
He also tested in-row plant spacings of 2.5, 3 and 3.5 feet. As the season continues, Agehara will monitor the plants for signs of disease and insect pests.
The winter growing season coincides with lower humidity rates, so Agehara said he doesn’t expect big disease problems.
Smith is helping with potential insect pests. Much like Uvalde, Florida is home to leaf-foot planted bugs. Although the inch-long insect can be seen frequently on artichokes, it doesn’t appear to cause economic damage.
Aphids also have been found on the plants but so far don’t appear to be injuring them. At the end of this season, Agehara said he hopes to have enough data to revise his previous publication, “Production Guidelines for Globe Artichoke in Florida,” available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1289.
Fields of the future: Putting technology to work
It may be hard to picture a robot harvesting strawberries rather than field workers picking by hand. But that’s one of ways powerful technology can potentially help Florida growers address workforce shortages – and it’s coming.
Technology advances and how they will affect specialty crop agriculture was the focus of one of the Issues Forums at FFVA’s annual convention.
“We need to look at innovative solutions for our farms,” said Jamie Williams, Lipman Family Farms, who introduced FFVA’s convention issues forum, "Fields of the Future: Putting Technology to Work."
Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms in Plant City, outlined an innovative collaborative technology project dubbed Harvest Croo Robotics, which is designed to address labor shortages in the fields. Changing demographics will exacerbate the existing workforce shortage, Wishnatzki predicted.
“Unlike commodity crops, strawberry harvesting hasn’t changed in 150 years,” he said. “But we are facing a global demographic issue. It takes young people to pick strawberries, and our workforce is aging. In addition, birth rates in Mexico are shrinking and at some point that nation will become a net importer or farm labor.”
Wishnatzki, who is managing director of Harvest Croo Robotics, said about two-thirds of U.S. strawberry producers are investors in the project, which has gained support from the state’s universities and a wide range of private-sector companies.
“We have developed automated robotic equipment with a proprietary stereo vision system to identify ripe strawberries and carefully harvest them,” he said. “We have piloted this technology, which can also be used for plant location positioning and punching holes for planting.”
The potential benefits of an automated strawberry harvesting solution are numerous, Wishnatzki said, and include:
• Lower harvesting costs
• Capacity to work on weekends
• Improved quality because of less bruising of berries
• Higher revenue with less overpacking
• Energy savings
• Reduced cooler bottlenecks
• Improved scouting of fields
• Better identification of problems such as spider mite infestations
• More accurate forecasting using artificial intelligence to count every plant rather than relying on a small sample size
Wishnatzki said a new version of the Harvest Croo vehicle will be in the field this month, followed by a fundraising campaign. “We have spent five years developing this technology, and it will probably be another two years until it can be commercialized, and we are already exploring future applications for this technology.”
During the same Issues Forum, FFVA attendees also heard from Dennis Donahue, director of Western Growers’ Center for Innovation and Technology. Donahue emphasized the importance of deploying advanced technology in the specialty crop sector.
“Farmers are very innovative, introducing new products like cut salads and cauliflower pizza flour in the supermarket,” he said. “Now we need to shift our thinking to the production area in order to get in front of challenges like the shortage of labor.”
Donahue said artificial intelligence machine learning and robotics can play an important role for producers in areas as diverse as labor, water quality and food safety. For example, large databases with automated tracking applications can help health officials rapidly identify the source of a disease outbreak.
In solving problems for its members, the Western Growers’ center focuses on crystallizing problems, identifying potential technology solutions, mentoring producers, beta testing innovative solutions and encouraging investment.
“We also help technology companies connect with the specialty crop industry, giving them real-world feedback from growers,” Donahue said. “It’s one of the ways we provide business value to all participants in this sector.”
Anatomy of an outbreak: What have we learned?
It takes planning, coordination and communication to protect consumers and the agriculture industry from disease outbreaks, according to Dr. Trevor Suslow, former director of the University of California-Davis Postharvest Technology Center and new vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association.
"Any time an outbreak involving fresh produce is in the news, a geographic region or a whole product commodity can be affected," said Suslow at an issues forum during FFVA’s convention in September.
"But all too often, we think that it is someone else's problem – it can't happen to me."
The issues forum, "Anatomy of an Outbreak: What Have We Learned?" was prompted by an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak this spring that was linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.
Suslow's talk focused on multistate disease outbreaks, which constitute only 3 percent of issues, but result in 11 percent of sicknesses, 34 percent of hospitalizations and 56 percent of deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Salmonella, E. coli and listeria, which have highly virulent subtypes, cause 91 percent of the most serious outbreaks.
It's not easy for epidemiologists to trace the origins of a foodborne outbreak, since it typically takes weeks or months for consumers to become ill, physicians to report patient illnesses, and investigators to identify a disease pattern. Then come the more difficult questions of trying to determine if the outbreak originated from a grower, processor or distributor, finding the root cause of the problem and communicating the lessons to the industry, Suslow said.
Fortunately, the agriculture industry has adopted measures to improve the ability of researchers to trace and isolate the source of the problem, thus limiting the economic damage to other producers. In addition, medical researchers are now able to identify the specific genetic aspects of bacterial and viral diseases, and find linkages between seemingly isolated cases, Suslow added.
“An outbreak can often be traced back to a common convergence point,” Suslow said. For example, researchers investigating an papaya-related salmonella outbreak found that small herds of cattle, a common source of the bacteria, had been grazing in groves of papaya trees. In other cases, the disease source might be a continuing problem, such as a seasonal rainstorm or a pathogen spread by a birds, he added.
Suslow also offered several “lessons learned” to help reduce the risk of future outbreaks. For example, ice is often the “forgotten food” that needs to be handled with the same strict sanitation procedures as fresh produce. Animal manure should be removed from common roadways used for harvesting leafy green vegetables, he said.
“Water runoff, dust, animals, agricultural traffic, and other risk factors must also be addressed,” Suslow said. In the Arizona romaine lettuce outbreak, for instance, contaminated sediment samples were found in the canal used for water management.
Noting the importance of scientific investigation into the root causes of outbreaks, Suslow said, “We need to be sure the new generation of workers understands what happened in the past, so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes.”
FFVA returns to its roots with FFVA Harvester
In a nod to its roots, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association is renaming its blog FFVA Harvester. The Harvester was a monthly newsletter started in 1965 that was created to enhance FFVA’s communications with its membership.
The first issue of the Harvester was a one-page newsletter and featured a photograph of Miss Florida posing in a display of winter vegetables at FFVA’s 22nd Annual Convention. Other stories focused on a proposed Florida-Mexico joint promotion program for tomatoes, convention awards and a visit to Florida by the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. George Wedgworth was FFVA’s president at the time, and the biggest issue facing the industry and the association was labor.
The Harvester grew to four pages soon after and remained that way until the early ‘90s, when the need to provide expanded information to members resulted in the development of a full-fledged magazine. The print magazine in stopped in 2001, when FFVA turned to a digital format.
Fast-forward to today, where The Harvester (formerly FFVA In Depth) complements the information available to its members through online publications such as The FFVA Voice and Today’s Headlines, member bulletins and an online member resource library. What better way to honor FFVA’s roots than by returning to the name of our original member publication? We hope you enjoy it.
Growing our way to food security: Protecting the nation’s best interests
By Jack Payne,
FFVA Chair Paul Allen speaks proudly of his grandfather’s service to the nation during World War II. E.J. Powell never had to fire a bullet. He never had to kill anyone.
Powell’s job was to keep people alive. His job was too important for him to be drafted into military service. He already was working on a national security task -- feeding and clothing a nation to keep us self-reliant.
The country had hungry mouths at home and needed food and fiber for millions of men and women in uniform abroad. The U.S. government decided Powell could contribute more to the war effort by continuing to grow cotton in Georgia than to fallow his fields and trade his tractor for a tank.
Indeed, from 1940 to 1947 the Selective Service System placed Powell and other farmers in a special category, II-C, that was exempt from the draft. It was one of a very few exemptions based solely on a would-be draftee’s occupation.
Although Paul Allen did not inherit his grandfather’s land, he did inherit a sense of national purpose that drives his work for R.C. Hatton in Pahokee near
Allen and I share a belief that what those of us in agriculture do for a living protects our nation.
Outsourcing agriculture to nations where it can be done more cheaply would hand over to others the decision of what we eat – and even whether we eat. A nation that imports all of its food is susceptible to having food used as a weapon against it.
Agriculture protects the security of people across the globe. The preeminent agricultural scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug said, “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.”
The Arab Spring, a series of demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, was popularly portrayed as a spontaneous people-powered uprising against authoritarian government. Less noticed was that so many of the protests coincided with spikes in the price and scarcity of food.
UF/IFAS and FFVA are committed to doing our part to feed the world. Food production in Florida is in our self-interest, whether that food is consumed on the other side of town in a farm-to-table restaurant or on the other side of the planet in Cairo or Khartoum.
As FFVA chairman, Allen works hard so Floridians can eat Florida-grown food. If we rely on others for our food supply, he says, we’re doomed. It’s like letting someone control our oxygen supply.
That’s why victory gardens were regarded as acts of patriotism during World War II. And when riveters were drafted but farmers were not, Allen’s grandmother Ruth Powell and his great aunts served the nation as welders in a Savannah shipyard.
Allen sees himself and fellow members of FFVA as vital to the capacity of our nation to feed ourselves and therefore determine our own destiny.
For Powell, farming was an opportunity to serve. It’s been no less an opportunity for his grandson.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Renewed interest in lemons as an alternative Florida crop
By Vicky Boyd
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. A small but increasing number of Florida producers have begun exploring a crop that can do just that – lemons.
The renewed interest in the tart yellow citrus is being spurred by the devastating effects of huanglongbing, or HLB, on the state’s orange crop. Although HLB bacteria also can infect lemons and produce severe symptoms, trees are likely to recover the following spring with few ill effects.
“We know from our experience with lemons in Florida that they can be infected with the (HLB) bacteria and develop high levels of bacteria in the plant,” said Dr. Fred Gmitter, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor of horticultural sciences. “They develop all of the symptoms late in the year and they look really bad. Then they come back like gangbusters the following spring. They sort of outgrow the disease.”
At the prompting of his citrus advisory committee, Chris Oswalt, UF/IFAS citrus agent for Polk and Hillsborough counties, recently hosted a half-day lemon workshop at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
“When you look at some of the recent information, some of these trees hold up a bit better to HLB because of the vigor,” he said. “It’s something worth exploring.”
Oswalt said he isn’t advocating growers put in large lemon plantings. Instead, he said the workshop was designed to provide growers with more information about the crop’s potential.
“I don’t think there’s any way you’re going to replace a significant amount of the orange or grapefruit acreage with lemons,” he said. “And again, you need to have a market and you need to understand what that market is. We’re not the only ones producing lemons in the world.”
Lemons can go to the fresh market, but they also can be processed for juice and for peel oil.
Long before the recent revival, Gmitter -- along with Drs. Bill Castle and Jude Grosser, also of UFL/IFAS -- began a lemon improvement program. From more than 4,000 individual plants, they selected the top 50 or so based on peel oil production potential.
“But we needed more data on how they would perform in the field and how much oil they’d produce on a per-acre basis,” Gmitter said. A field trial was established on about 200 acres in Bolivia to gauge peel oil production.
The project was funded by a large beverage company – also the world’s largest lemon peel oil customer -- which wanted to improve its long-term sustainability.
Gmitter said researchers sometimes conduct experiments, not knowing what they’ll encounter down the road. Such was the case with the lemon trials.
“Low and behold, we might have some lemons that fit the interest in this area in Florida,” he said.
They have since put in small lemon variety trials in select locations within the Florida citrus belt to gauge their production potential.
A lemon renaissance
In the 1970s when lemon production was in its heyday, Florida growers produced about 500,000 80-pound boxes of citrus annually. Before joining IFAS years ago, Oswalt worked for an operation that had lemon acreage on the southeast side of Tampa Bay. Because the region had a warmer microclimate than some other parts of the state, it had quite a few acres of lemons, he said.
But freezes in 1983, 1985 and 1989 along with a poor market likely contributed to much of the crop’s decline.
How many acres Florida currently has planted to lemons is subject to debate.
At the recent IFAS workshop, panelists provided their estimates that ranged up to about 4,000 acres. If those figures are accurate, Gmitter estimated about 3,000 of those acres probably had young trees. But because of lemon trees’ precociousness, they can start bearing fruit as soon as two years after planting in Florida.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported only 124 bearing acres of lemons in Florida in 2018. That compares to 47,000 bearing acres in California and 7,300 acres in Arizona.
A not-so-sweet side
One of the challenges with producing lemons is their greater cold sensitivity compared to oranges and grapefruit, said Gmitter and Oswalt. Oranges typically can handle temperatures down to 28 degrees for up to four hours before damage begins whereas lemons can be injured if temperatures dip below 30.5 degrees for even a brief period.
Technology, particularly with irrigation, has changed since the 1970s, and citrus producers have learned to use microsprinklers to protect citrus trees during mild freezes, they said.
“What I’m going to try to bring out is a review of some of those practices that we sometimes forget,” Oswalt said of frost protection.
As long as microsprinklers can protect the trunk and scaffolding, Gmitter said lemon trees can frequently recover from cold damage.
“Lemon trees grow back really fast,” he said. “Within two years, they grow back in a major way. So I don’t think cold is necessarily a kiss of death.”
Another challenge is lemon’s susceptibility to citrus canker, Gmitter said. In addition, lemon trees tend to have thorns, which can puncture fruit or leaves and provide additional entry points for the canker bacteria.
As long as producers have solid canker-management programs that minimize fruit drop, the bacterial disease isn’t typically a big issue for fruit going to processors, he said. But for those in the fresh fruit market, fruit with canker lesions could be a deal-breaker.
Caldwell outlines his priorities for state's agriculture sector
Labor, trade and water are the most pressing issues facing Florida's agriculture sector, according to Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican nominee for agriculture commissioner on the November 6 general election ballot. "I’m an optimist and believe the challenges facing our industry can be solved," Caldwell said at the opening luncheon for FFVA’s 75th annual convention. "We need to educate our state’s residents about these issues and lay out a pathway to the future."
Caldwell outlined his family's long ties to Florida and his decision to enter public service a decade ago. After being elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010, Caldwell was honored twice with FFVA’s Legislator of the Year award. Now running for commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Caldwell said the role is different than anywhere else in the United States. “It’s really the commissioner of dirty jobs,” he joked. “But everyone in the state interacts with this office in some way.”
Turning to the issues facing Florida’s diverse agriculture sector, Caldwell said assuring an adequate supply of labor was a top priority. “You have to have workers here to get the job done,” he said. “We can have a controlled border and still be serious about filling our labor needs because those are not incompatible goals. The U.S. Congress needs to fix our immigration system.”
Caldwell said he hopes that Washington also will tackle the trade inequalities of NAFTA. “We can have successful bi-national trade agreements, but the current agreement is a mess,” he said. “If we don’t change it, Florida’s agriculture industry could disappear.”
Calling water the “defining question for our state,” Caldwell said it is essential to balance the demand from urban, rural and natural resource areas. For example, desalinization plants, water reuse programs and reservoirs could take some of the pressure off Florida’s aquifers. “In a fast-growing state with 22 million people, we must have a vision and a statewide plan for this vital natural resource,” he said. “We all need to work together to address this challenge.”
Also at the opening luncheon, Convention Committee Chair David Hill of Southern Hill Farms in Clermont welcomed a record-setting 468 attendees to the first day of the Sept. 25-27 event at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. Sonia Tighe, FFVA’s director of membership, congratulated Class 7 of the Emerging Leaders Development Program during their graduation and welcomed the incoming members of Class 8.
FFVA President Mike Stuart noted, “Our association has been here for 75 years, and our members are getting younger every year. That’s the sign of a strong and healthy organization.”
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association appoints Mike Joyner as new president
Mike Joyner has been named as the organization’s new president effective Oct. 15.
Joyner’s experience in agricultural and environmental issues runs deep. Most recently, he served as assistant commissioner of agriculture and chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, helping to lead the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for almost eight years. Before that, Joyner represented clients throughout Florida and the United States before the Florida Legislature and state regulatory agencies. He also served in public affairs and environmental affairs positions for The St. Joe Company and Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) and worked as chief of staff for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Mike is uniquely equipped to lead FFVA into the future,” Orsenigo said. “Given his experience and leadership in Florida agriculture, he has a keen grasp of the issues that Florida producers face in growing and marketing their crops. We’re looking forward to having him at the helm of our association.”
“I’m excited to join this association, which I’ve admired for many years,” Joyner said. “The positive influence that FFVA’s advocacy work has had on public policy is impressive. There are challenges ahead for agriculture, which means that advocacy is more important than ever.”
Joyner is a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, food and resource economics. He and his wife, Alicia, have two daughters.
Outgoing FFVA President Mike Stuart will stay on board for a brief transition period before his retirement, Orsenigo said. “Mike’s tireless efforts and contributions on behalf of specialty crop agriculture in Florida and nationally have been monumental,” he said. “We’re grateful for his leadership, talents, integrity and coalition stewardship over the years. Our volunteer leaders are committed to providing a smooth succession to new leadership.”
FFVA Issues Forum topics are top of mind for Florida’s agriculture industry
As the November elections draw near, the agriculture community is watching key congressional and statewide races, including governor and agriculture commissioner. Attendees of FFVA’s 75th Annual Convention will get some expert perspective in the first forum, “Election 2018: A look ahead for agriculture.” Joe Clements, CEO of Strategic Digital Services, Florida state Rep. Katie Edwards of District 98, and political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus will discuss what the outcome of the elections could mean for the specialty crop industry in the near future and long term.
With workforce shortages a stark reality for many growers, attention is turning to ways agriculture can innovate and move toward mechanization. In the issues forum “Fields of the future: Putting technology to work,” attendees will learn about how technology is shaping our industry as it changes to meet needs. Gary Wishnatzki of Wish Farms will talk about the farm’s investment in strawberry harvesting mechanization and how it is slowly working to address their labor needs. Dennis Donahue, director of Western Growers’ Center for Innovation and Technology, will discuss how current agriculture technology trends may help solve grower issues such as food safety, labor, water and data management. He’ll also discuss how Western Growers is approaching the future through its Innovation Center.
The latest outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce from Arizona this spring got the attention of many specialty crop producers. “Anatomy of an outbreak: What have we learned” will shed some light on what this incident taught us about outbreak investigations and the current state of traceability. Dr. Trevor Suslow from the Produce Marketing Association will share key takeaways from the outbreak and the aftermath that resulted in an unwanted spotlight on the fresh produce industry.
FFVA 2018 takes place Sept. 25-27 at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. To see more about the convention and to register, go to ffva.com/convention.
FFVA selects next class of emerging leaders
The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association is pleased to announce the selection of 15 up-and-coming agriculture industry leaders for the 8th class of our Emerging Leader Development Program for the coming year.
Jake Brown, Tater Farms
Christopher Campbell, Lipman Family Farms
Juan David Castro-Anzola, PGIM Ag Investments
Cathleen Conley, A. Duda & Sons
Tiffany Dale, Florida Strawberry Growers Assoc.
Josh Griffin, Grimes Produce Company
Cooper Hopkins, Hundley Farms
Brittany Hubbard, S & L Beans
Tyler Jacoby, Highland Precision Ag
Zach Langford, Syngenta Crop Protection
Breanna Lawyer, Corteva Agriscience
Justin Newsome, Bayer CropScience
Carla Rojas, Southern Gardens Citrus
Alison Sizemore, Sizemore Farms
Nick Wishnatzki, Wish Farms
Class 8 members will be introduced at FFVA’s 75th Annual Convention in Naples, Sept. 25-27. Class 7 will graduate at the event’s opening luncheon.
Launched in 2011, the program identifies and develops leaders to be strong advocates for Florida agriculture. The program sessions provide a wealth of information on the many issues facing the industry as well as tools to communicate about agriculture. Ultimately, graduates of the program can get involved to improve the sustainability of specialty crop agriculture and to strengthen grassroots engagement in FFVA and other industry organizations.
The yearlong program includes meetings with legislators and state officials in Tallahassee, seminars provided by FFVA staff members and other experts on current issues, tours of venues to study environmental issues and water management, and visits to specialty crop production areas.
“Class 8 is a diverse group with an interesting mix of commodities represented," said Sonia Tighe, program director and executive director of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation. "In addition to learning from the operations we visit, they have an opportunity to learn from each other. I'm really looking forward to seeing the class build relationships and grow leadership skills in each of their unique positions."
For a deeper look at the program, watch last year's ELDP highlights video or learn more on the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation website.
All roads lead to blueberry success for Ryan Atwood
By Mick Lochridge
As a first-generation farmer, Ryan Atwood made the right career moves to end up a successful businessman and respected leader in Florida’s blueberry industry. Drawing on his work as a research scientist, crop adviser, sales representative and extension agent, the pieces all fell into place.
“It was a long and winding road,” he acknowledged.
In the 18 years since he earned a master’s degree in forest genetics at the University of Florida, the 43-year-old Atwood has established himself as a go-to guy in the blueberry business. No wonder. He co-owns a family farm, a packinghouse and a farm management company. In addition, he owns a blueberry consulting firm and an apiary.
“He’s an extremely knowledgeable and respected grower,” said Brittany Lee, manager at her family-owned Florida Blue Farms in Alachua County. “As a crop consultant for our farm, he brings with him invaluable expertise from his background in extension, plant genetics and as a grower himself.” They also work together for the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, where Lee is president and Atwood is vice president.
Growing up in Seminole County, Atwood is home in Central Florida. He lives in Mount Dora with wife Alison, 41, and children Lillian, 14, and Eli, 13. Alison runs their U-pick operation (with help from the kids) and handles food safety compliance at Atwood Family Farms in Umatilla, where they grow Southern Highbush blueberries on 27 acres.
Not far away, H&A Farms in Orange County expects to pack 4 million pounds of blueberries this year, Atwood said. He co-owns that business with Michael Hill, whose family operates Southern Hill Farm in Clermont.
Those businesses contributed to Florida’s $84 million blueberry industry in 2017, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That same year, farms produced more than 20 million pounds of berries on 5,200 acres. Those numbers have wavered in the past few years.
Through his consulting work and personal experiences, Atwood is very familiar with issues facing today’s blueberry farmers.
“I think too many blueberry farmers wait too long to replace non-productive varieties,” he said. “I have watched as fellow growers continue to try and turn unproductive varieties into productive varieties, while producing small yields. In the past one could get away with unproductive fields and still turn a profit. However, those days are leaving quickly. Florida blueberry growers need to have good yields going forward.”
There’s something else playing into the blueberry equation as well.
“Increased competition from Mexico is going to reduce profitability of blueberries in Florida,” Atwood said. "Farmers who are quickest to adapt to new practices such as mechanical harvesting will continue to be successful. Others will get pushed out of the industry by competition. I expect it will be turbulent over the next five to seven years.”
His expertise and leadership could come in handy if that happens.
In addition to his role with the Florida Blueberry Association, Atwood will join the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council as the Southern Region representative in 2019. He is a member of the International Responsible Farming Council and a member of the board of directors for the Lake County Farm Bureau. He has graduated from both the Wedgworth Leadership Institute (Class X) and FFVAs Emerging Leader Development Program (Class 3). In 2015 he received the Florida Certified Crop Advisor of the Year award from the Florida Farm Bureau.
“Ryan is a true leader in Florida agriculture, and the blueberry industry is better because of his involvement,” said fellow grower Lee.
Learning through research and sharing
After college, Atwood started his agriculture career as a research scientist in Georgia, where he managed a 150-acre pine tree orchard, harvesting seed for nursery operations. He returned to Florida and went to work for UF in 2005 as a fruit crops extension agent, where he was involved with citrus and blueberry products. A few years later he accepted a job as a sales representative and crop adviser for Keyplex, which makes plant nutrition products.
“I got to see firsthand the installation of 70 to 80 percent of the blueberry farms in my area of Florida,” he said. “There were very few experts, unlike citrus where some families had been growing the crop for generations.”
In addition, he said, “Blueberry plants are very receptive to inputs. You can change the plants’ health and productivity much more quickly than citrus (the other major crop I was working with at the time), which made it much more interesting to me.”
Through those experiences, he developed a network of farmers who sought his advice on blueberry production. In 2011, he launched AtwoodAG, a consulting firm to assist farmers. Today he works with eight farms.
“I provide horticultural recommendations, along with scouting for nutritional deficiencies, pest and disease symptoms,” he said. “I also believe I can add insight into what happens in the blueberry industry as I am involved in many aspects of it. Not only do you have to be productive in your yields, but you need to understand the cost structure of packing and marketing your berries to be successful.”
Sharing knowledge is a two-way street, and that’s something Atwood appreciates.
“Being a first-generation farmer, everything I learned has been from others in the ag industry,” he said. “Everyone we meet has something to offer. We all are unique, and we all have different gifts and talents. I try to actively listen to what others are telling me.”
“I love working with farmers,” he added. “They are the best people. I also like the challenge of farming in Florida. There is always some new disease or pest, weather event or regulation challenge to overcome.
“Just when you think you have everything figured out, it’s time to come up with new solutions to new problems.”
Agriculture innovation insists on taking calculated risks
By Jack Payne
There are different kinds of stubborn. There’s a stubborn that’s cautious about change and a stubborn that insists on it.
FFVA board member Jamie Williams of Lipman Produce puts himself in the former camp. It has served him well, because it’s a check on impulsive change based on scant science. It takes a few years of accumulated evidence to change his mind.
Sanjay Shukla, a University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences agricultural engineer, is the other kind of stubborn. When he sees promise in an idea at his research center, he wants growers to adopt the innovation.
Shukla knows that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t cover every real-world condition in the lab, greenhouse or experimental field. So he’s been working on Williams for a couple of years now to grow tomatoes in raised beds.
Williams listens to Shukla because he considers the scientist practical, looking to help producers. Shukla’s campaign for change is based on his finding that planting acreage in beds that are four to six inches higher and eight to 16 inches narrower than conventional beds can save on irrigation, fertilization, fumigation and other input costs.
That gets any grower’s attention. But it was still tough to figure out if the up-front investment needed to make the change would pencil out.
Shukla brought two other things to the table: his network of academics and luck.
Shukla appreciates that Florida agriculture does not stop at the Georgia border. So he was receptive to Williams’ request for help with improving production at Lipman’s Virginia operation. Part of Shukla’s schooling was at Virginia Tech, so he had connections there that allowed him to pull in the collaborators that would make possible a test of raised beds there.
The luck part? Shukla set up an experiment last summer to test resiliency to a hurricane. In Immokalee, Shukla had the raised beds, the plastic sheets, and the plants. He just needed a hurricane. As we all remember, he got what he needed in September.
One of the few good things we can say about Irma is that it was the ultimate stress test of Shukla’s rows. Good, because Shukla and Williams say the plastic on Shukla’s raised beds withstood the wind and rain with almost no damage, while the majority of conventional beds just one plot over were heavily damaged.
Meanwhile, Williams had a third data point. Irma thrashed the plastic in Lipman’s fields, and it cost the company plenty to replace it. This gave Shukla’s raised beds an unforeseen advantage, and Williams was ready to go bigger with a trial on commercial acreage. So far it’s been working well, Williams said.
Williams is now interested in another potential advantage of Shukla’s innovation. Shukla hypothesizes that raised beds contribute to good ergonomics. If workers don’t have to bend as much to plant, treat or harvest, that could save wear and tear on backs and joints.
Shukla’s job is to discover. He seeks answers to a big question: “What’s the best way to grow food?” What makes him so good at it is that he also answers a second big question: “Why do farmers do what they do?”
While basic research that could pay off down the road is essential (and supported by agricultural organizations), Shukla knows that for producers it comes down to whether science will make them money or save them money soon.
From where Williams sits, it looks like failure to take a calculated risk on Shukla’s innovation may be the biggest risk of all.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Tom Mitchell picks a successful career in the grapefruit business
By Mick Lochridge
A pharmaceutical salesman turned citrus businessman, Tom Mitchell jumped into Florida agriculture with both feet and has been on the go since.
Taking a job in 2009 with Riverfront Packing Co. in Vero Beach, Mitchell joined the third-generation Scott family business that grows, packs and markets grapefruit both in this country and abroad. Before that, much of the Alabama native’s close encounters with grapefruit may have been a glass of juice.
For some, that inexperience in a challenging industry could be a handicap. But for Mitchell, it was an opportunity.
“My lack of experience in the industry has been a benefit because I have been motivated to learn as much as I can,” said Mitchell, 41, vice president of the packing company. “I’ve also been blessed to have a mentor, (Riverfront President and CEO) Dan Richey, help with this process.”
Armed with confidence and determination, Mitchell embraced his new career. Eager to learn the business, he accepted leadership positions with Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Citrus Packers and the Indian River Citrus League. He graduated from FFVA’s Emerging Leadership Development Program and is a member of the current class of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In 2013 he was part of a delegation that traveled to Japan with Gov. Rick Scott to promote economic ties with Florida.
“I have a long history of leadership positions throughout my life, starting as early as student body president in high school,” he said. “My biggest strength has always been my ability to relate to all different types of people and build consensus.”
Mitchell grew up in Gadsden, Ala., a riverfront city about an hour’s drive northeast of Birmingham. He majored in biology at the University of Richmond and then earned an MBA at the University of Alabama. A longtime Auburn University fan, he said he “ate a lot of crow” to attend Alabama. To this day, he still roots for the Tigers “and any team playing the Tide.”
After college he worked for a few years as a sales representative for Eli Lilly & Co. and received the company’s district sales achievement award in 2002.
At a wedding, he met his future wife, Cheryl, who earlier had earned a Master of Science degree at Auburn. Today she is a speech-language pathologist in Fort Pierce, where they are raising son Will, 14, and daughter Anna, 11.
Cheryl, 41, was Mitchell’s link to the Sunshine State. A native of Fort Pierce, she is a member of the Scott family that owns Scott Family Groves, Scott Citrus Management, Scott Marketing and Riverfront Packing, where Mitchell works.
Riverfront is “a great balance of technology and personal oversight,” he said. “Its experienced management team has adapted the facility to ensure the best quality is being packed for the customer.” High-tech gear takes a 3-D image of the fruit to determine its size, while sensors measure the Brix of each piece of fruit.
“Despite the modern technology, the personal touch is so important to delivering a consistent product,” he added. “Each piece of grapefruit is personally graded multiple times and then hand-packed by a member of the Riverfront team.” The packinghouse has about 115 employees.
“Our goal has always been to produce a high-quality product for our customers while maximizing the return to the growers,” he said.
This year the operation packed more than 938,000 cartons of fruit, Mitchell said, “making us one of the largest, if not the largest,” in Florida. That volume was much higher before citrus greening, he added, when the company packed upward of 1.6 million cartons.
For Mitchell, teamwork and working relationships are key. “The most rewarding aspects of working in Florida agriculture have been the relationships I have built,” he said. “There are so many wonderful people that I have met along the way who are so passionate about what they do.”
“Every year there are major issues facing our industry, and with the help of strong leadership, these issues are met head-on,” he said. “This will and determination to find solutions to problems is common with all people in agriculture and something that I greatly admire.”
Dustin Grooms runs the family strawberry farm with love and duty
By Mick Lochridge
Eight years in the Army taught Dustin Grooms a lot about fairness, hard work and duty. Blending that education with the life lessons he learned from his father growing up, he was armed with the maturity and know-how to take on the responsibility of running his family’s strawberry farm.
“Growing produce is a role that I take seriously,” said Grooms, the 36-year-old farm manager at Fancy Farms in Plant City. “I considered myself a hard but fair drill sergeant, and I apply that to farming, although my crew tells me we aren’t in the Army anymore.
“The same principles that my dad taught me I try to instill in anyone who works for me. One of the seven Army values is duty, which means to fulfill your obligations. As an American farmer, it is my duty to provide safe, quality and delicious berries to the consumer.”
Born and raised on the farm that his parents started in 1974, the young Grooms worked alongside his parents and decided that was where he belonged.
“When I was little I told them I didn’t need to go to school, that I was going to stay right here on the farm and be just fine,” he said. “I didn’t go to college, but I was in the Army for 8½ years. I’m back on the farm, and I feel like I am doing just fine.”
He joined the family business when he left the service in 2007. Today he runs the operation, and his aunt is the office manager. His parents still lend a hand and advice. “My father is the only retired person I know who comes to work every day,” Grooms said.
“I have learned from my parents to trust in the Lord and He will take care of you,” he said. “Also to do everything with 110 percent effort, no matter what task is at hand.”
Fancy Farms grows berries on 170 acres, a big jump from the original 15. The farm has about 10 year-round employees and hires up to 175 during harvest season, typically from December to March. Grooms said he aims to produce about 500,000 pounds of berries each season. Wish Farms, also in Plant City, handles packing and distribution.
The crop is primarily Florida Radiance, but the farm also has planted Sweet Sensations and Florida Beauty. Grooms said he is looking forward to a new cultivar, Florida Brilliance, next year.
A graduate of Class 4 in FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, Grooms praised the group: “The Florida future of agriculture is bright. FFVA has created this Emerging Leader Development class, and we’ve seen people rise up who are just as passionate about agriculture as I am. They’re there to make a difference. And we see people standing up. And people are getting excited about food.”
Grooms and wife Alison, who recently became an extension agent, are setting examples as good stewards of the land for their daughter, Skyler, 12.
“I love farming. I love every aspect of it. I love the challenges that I face every day,” he said. “I love to plant the seeds, to plant the plant. I love the growing of it. I love the taking care of it.
“The No. 1 thing is actually getting to eat it. And every day I get to go out there and bend down and pick a strawberry and I get to eat it. That’s what we live for, right there.”
View Dustin Groom's member spotlight video on FFVA's YouTube channel.
Brittany Lee charts a winning course with Florida Blue Farms
By Mick Lochridge
Brittany Lee sets a great example for young son Jeb. An award-winning leader in Florida’s blueberry industry, Lee will pass along her drive to work hard and make a difference, whether it’s in a farm field or in a boardroom.
“I hope what Jeb learns from me is that hard work and dedication can be truly rewarding,” she said. “That being able to point to a plentiful harvest is a real and tangible thing. It’s powerful to see the success that comes from a year’s worth of long hours and hard work.”
Career commitment seems to come naturally to Lee, the 35-year-old vice president and farm manager of family-owned Florida Blue Farms, which planted its first trees in 2010 on land just south of Waldo in eastern Alachua County.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s exciting every day, and you never have the same problem twice.”
Because it sits in a former stand of pine trees that left the land acidic, Florida Blue grows its Southern Highbush varieties in soil, not in pine mulch like many blueberry farms.
“Blueberries were the perfect crop for this location, not only because of the ideal soils and organic matter, but also because the University of Florida IFAS breeding program has developed many varieties that are perfectly suited for our climate,” Lee said. The farm grows Farthing, San Joaquin, Meadowlark and Indigocrisp varieties.
Both the state and the blueberry industry in 2017 recognized Lee for her farming expertise and concern for the environment. She was elected president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and won the Florida Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Achievement Award. In addition, the farm received the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She also serves as the Florida delegate for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Those honors add to a resume of Lee’s involvement with community service groups and agriculture organizations. She is a member of the Governmental Relations and Membership committees for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and was a member of the Class IX of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
She also stays active in a number of community groups in the Gainesville area, involvement that she believes is important. “A community is only as strong as the people who live and work there are committed to making it,” she said.
Her family is part of that community. Lee and husband Ryan Brown, 33, who teaches physical education at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy in Gainesville, live in the college town. Son Jeb, which stands for Joseph Edward Brown, just celebrated his first Christmas.
After graduating from the University of Florida in 2005, Lee joined her father’s company, Florida Woodland Group, as a sales representative. She holds real estate licenses in Florida and South Carolina.
It was through that connection that Florida Blue Farms was created. The real estate company owned the acreage for silviculture. Initially, the family hired a management company to run the blueberry farm, but that arrangement eventually lead to the family taking it over.
In the past seven years, the farm has expanded from an initial 50 acres to 110 acres of blueberry trees that produce 750,000 pounds of berries a year. That’s enough to fill two semi-truck loads a day during picking season, which starts in late March.
The farm typically has six to seven full-time employees year-round, but the payroll swells to 150 during picking season. Naturipe distributes its product.
Producing safe and healthy food for the public holds a top priority for Lee.
“Agriculture is important for several reasons,” she said. “It’s the passion and dedication of the agricultural community that works extremely hard to provide a food source for our community and the worldwide consumer.
“It’s also one of the major economic drivers in the state of Florida and the U.S.”
Alan Jones: ‘Protect the environment, provide safe local food’
By Mick Lochridge
Alan Jones knows hard work pays off. From a high school teenager helping on his family’s farm to running a successful agriculture operation today, he has cultivated a work ethic that has earned high praise from his industry.
Recognized for his innovative farming practices to protect Florida’s natural resources, Jones in September joined the 40-member board of directors for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, whose members represent the vast majority of fresh fruit and vegetable production the state.
“The first year I’ll sit back and watch and see how things work,” he said of his board involvement. “Then I’ll see how I can make a positive impact. I like to talk about solutions, not just about problems.”
That kind of approach to issues has resulted in an ever-expanding business for Jones, his wife, Leslie, and Jones Potato Farm in Parrish in Manatee County. There they harvest about 50 million pounds of potatoes, for chipping and table stock, and 200,000 bushels of green beans annually on more than 3,000 acres. Last year, he built a packinghouse onsite for the beans. In addition, his company owns 1,200 acres of citrus in Hendry and Lee counties. The farm also has about 200 beef cattle.
“My fiduciary responsibility is to do what is good for me as a farmer and what is good for the consumer -- to deliver the highest-quality product at the least cost,” said the 50-year-old company president and CEO.
Jones said he follows Best Management Practices “to use the least amount of water, pesticides and fertilizer to produce the highest-quality, safe beans and potatoes.”
His efficient farming methods include GPS technology to apply a precise amount of fertilizer in a precise location. To conserve water, he combines a furrow ditch system with watering pivots. Float wells let him gauge irrigation based on the water table.
As a testament to his concern for the environment, the farm has received several awards:
• The 2017 Grower Achievement Award from American Vegetable Grower magazine, in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association, for the farm’s commitment to sustainable practices and community involvement, including supplying homeless shelters with fresh produce, farm-to-school movement/// and providing vegetables to local areas where fresh produce is not easily available.
• The 2016 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for using innovative farming techniques that protect and conserve the state’s natural resources.
• The 2013 4R Advocate Award from the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program for the farm’s goals to optimize use of fertilizer and improve water quality. Developed by fertilizer and plant nutrition groups, the program stands for “the right source and the right rate at the right time, in the right place.”
Yet owning his own farm was a distant star to a young Alan Jones, who in high school was climbing out of bed before dawn twice a week to deliver bags of greens from his family’s farm to Publix stores in St. Augustine.
“I was the only kid waking up at 3 a.m. to go to work,” Jones recalled about his job in the ’80s. “But that taught me how to make money.”
That produce was from Jones Brothers Farm, owned by his father and uncle. A longtime member of FFVA, the farm was primarily a truck farming operation that also produced potatoes, onions and watermelons.
“Dad taught me that there’s hard work in agriculture and farming, but there’s money, too,” Jones said. “They go hand in hand.”
In 1986 his father moved to Manatee County to start a new farm. At the time, the younger Jones was studying food and resource economics at the University of Florida and helping out on the farm when he could. He eventually would join his father full-time. Around 2000, Jones took over the farm and bought out his dad. Since then, the business has grown from 450 acres to more than 4,000 with 25 employees.
“I chose to invest my money in land when everybody else was buying dot-coms,” he said.
Along with growing a business, Alan and Leslie, whom he met at UF, also are raising a family. Their daughter, Madeline, is a junior studying nursing at Georgia Southern University; their son Harrison is a high school senior who plans to study agriculture in college; and son Carson is a high school sophomore. The family lives in Sarasota, less than 30 minutes from the farm.
When he’s not farming, Jones likes to go saltwater fishing and play golf. And living on Florida’s southwest coast, he’s in the perfect place to enjoy both.
It’s also an area bustling with new commercial and residential development heading east along U.S. Highway 301 toward the unincorporated Parrish. That could mean something new for Jones, who envisions a day when he may consider development on some of his farmland. “I enjoy long-range planning,” he said.
But until that day, he remains committed to his twin priorities: “Protect our natural resources and provide a safe, local food source.”
Cracker Breakfast speaker turns his limitations into artistic creativity
By Mick Lochridge
Permanent nerve damage in their drawing hand would cripple the dreams of many artists. But for Phil Hansen, his physical limitations opened up myriad new paths for his creativity.
Widely recognized for his multimedia art projects, YouTube videos and his “Embrace the Shake” TED Talk, Hansen will bring his message about innovation and personal obstacles to the Cracker Breakfast on Sept. 26 during FFVA 2018, the association’s 75th annual convention.
At 38, the self-taught artist lives and works in Minneapolis when he is not on the road creating, writing and speaking. That road started for Hansen growing up in Seattle, where in high school his style of choice was pointillism, using tiny dots to form images. After years of working with that technique, his hand started to shake. A short stint in art school ended in frustration, leading him to quit art altogether.
He described his crisis in the 2013 TED Talk:
“The shake developed out of a single-minded pursuit of pointillism, just years of making tiny, tiny dots. And eventually these dots went from being perfectly round to looking more like tadpoles because of the shake. So to compensate, I'd hold the pen tighter, and this progressively made the shake worse, so I'd hold the pen tighter still. And this became a vicious cycle that ended up causing so much pain and joint issues I had trouble holding anything. And after spending all my life wanting to do art, I left art school, and then I left art completely.
“But after a few years, I just couldn't stay away from art, and I decided to go to a neurologist about the shake and discovered I had permanent nerve damage. And he actually took one look at my squiggly line, and said, ‘Well, why don't you just embrace the shake?’ "
“So I did. I went home, I grabbed a pencil, and I just started letting my hand shake and shake. I was making all these scribble pictures. And even though it wasn't the kind of art that I was ultimately passionate about, it felt great. And more importantly, once I embraced the shake, I realized I could still make art. I just had to find a different approach to making the art that I wanted.”
In the years since, Hansen’s art career has gained international fame. His clients include the Grammy Awards, Walt Disney Co., Skype, Mazda and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has been interviewed by a number of print and broadcast outlets worldwide, and he is the author of Tattoo A Banana and When I was 7. In addition, he is the founder of Goodbye-Art Academy, an art education platform that offers a library of high-quality instructional videos to educators and students for free.
“Looking at limitations as a source of creativity changed the course of my life,” Hansen told the TED audience. “Now when I run into a barrier or I find myself creatively stumped, I sometimes still struggle but I continue to show up for the process and try to remind myself of the possibilities, like using hundreds of real, live worms to make an image, using a pushpin to tattoo a banana, or painting a picture with hamburger grease.”
FFVA asked Hansen to answer a few questions as a preview of his convention appearance.
FFVA: How do you describe your art?
Hansen: I do a lot of different kinds of art. I define most of my art as fragmentation portraiture, but I like to mix it up. I am a multimedia artist who uses different methods and materials.
FFVA: Do you work in a studio daily?
Hansen: Yes, daily, nightly – as much as I possibly can. Lately I have been on the road a lot, so I have been figuring out ways to continue to make art wherever I am – in airports, hotels, you name it.
FFVA: What are a few examples of the different styles of your work?
Hansen: I’ve worked with so many different materials, from a typewriter to smashing records to working with people’s stories. That is probably the most unique style I have. I ask people to share a story or memory with me and then I handwrite those stories to create an image.
FFVA: What did you do in the three years after you quit art school?
Hansen: I was in denial about my hand tremor, and I went to school to become a dentist. A dentist with a tremor...what could go wrong? Needless to say, that didn’t work out. I then went to the University of Washington for business and eventually got a degree to become an X-ray tech – all of that before finding my way back into art.
FFVA: How did you decide to resume your work in art?
Hansen: It wasn’t a decision exactly. It happened naturally, a little at a time. It was a slow process easing back in because of this lingering fear of failing and losing the dream again.
FFVA: What motivates you as an artist?
Hansen: My biggest motivator is simply the desire to create. I would rather be making something than not. This can lead me to be a little boring because I don’t know the latest shows or the latest news. But I’ll take that tradeoff to create a little more.
FFVA: What do you enjoy about speaking to business groups and organizations such as the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association?
Hansen: There are a lot of things that I enjoy when I speak to business groups and organizations, especially when the organization is so critical for America's health and well-being as the FFVA is. Showing how creativity and innovation can come from constraints and limitations is a message that, I think, helps people rise above any challenge and succeed no matter what comes in the way. It is rewarding work, and I look forward to speaking more about it.
FFVA: What challenges in your own life do you share with today’s farmers?
Hansen: I think that the challenges that today’s farmers face are enormous and universal, in a sense of how rapidly the world and global market are changing. My story digs into how these challenges can be our greatest source of growth.
FFVA: What message do you hope resonates with Florida’s farmers at the FFVA convention?
Hansen: I hope that my message of finding creativity within limitations will inspire Florida’s farmers to reflect inward for resources that can transform challenges into opportunities for success.
Watch Hansen's video message for FFVA 2018 attendees.
For more information
FFVA’S 75th Annual Convention will be held Sept. 25-27 at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. To see more about the convention and to register, go to ffva.com/convention. To download the group’s mobile app, search “FFVA” in the Apple Store or Google Play.
To learn more about artist Phil Hansen, visit his website at philinthecircle.com. To see his TED Talk, go to ted.com/talks/phil_hansen_embrace_the_shake.
Hops gaining interest as alternative Florida crop
By Vicky Boyd
As the craft beer industry continues to grow with new breweries sprouting up weekly, so does the demand for locally grown hops.
Florida is no exception, with roughly 200 small-scale craft breweries in the state. It was this burgeoning industry that planted the seed in the head of Simon Bollin, agribusiness development manager at the Hillsborough County Economic Department, about trying to develop a Florida-grown hops industry.
“I was talking with my boss about the direction of my program and the craft beer industry came up,” Bollin said. “I went out and started meeting with craft breweries in Hillsborough County. Two issues consistently came up, and one of those was hops. At the time, the price of hops was fairly high, if you could even get hops.”
That led Bollin to meet with researchers at the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, who conducted a greenhouse trial with three different varieties to determine whether they would even grow. The success of the project prompted them to apply for two sequential Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services specialty crop research grants to build a hopyard and further test whether hops might be an agronomically viable crop for the state.
Several local craft breweries also have jumped aboard and have offered in-kind or financial support.
Involved in the project are Drs. Zhanao Deng, Shinsuke Agehara, Gary Vallad, Hugh Smith and Johan Desaeger, all of GREC, and Dr. Brian Pearson of the Mid-Florida Research and Extension Center in Apopka.
What are hops?
The seed cone of a plant, hops don’t comprise the largest ingredient in beer by volume by any means. But they are crucial to imparting distinct flavor characteristics to a brew. In the United States alone, more than 50 hops varieties are commercially cultivated, according to the International Hop Growers’ Convention. The plants are vines, growing up to 25 feet each season. Producers in the northern United States train the vines up wire and wooden trellises topping 18 feet. The plants don’t reach peak production until about the fourth year, but they typically continue to yield for more than 10 years.
With most of the hops research conducted in the northern latitudes, the Florida group was entering uncharted waters.
In the third year of their project, the researchers already have had to overcome two hurdles. But Agehara, who is looking at optimum plant spacing and nutrient requirements for the popular Cascade and Chinook varieties, isn’t discouraged.
“When we have to overcome those environmental challenges, sometimes they become opportunities,” he said.
When they planted their first hopyard in 2016, many of the rhizomes they ordered were subsequently found infected with several viruses, which are common to traditional hops production areas. So the researchers had to start from scratch, this time using virus-free plant material developed through tissue culture.
Even without the virus, Agehara said, the vines weren’t growing the same as they would in the Pacific Northwest, where hops production is a big industry. There the vines grow from May through July with synchronized flowering in late July through August. This allows for a one-time harvest.
Short day length, typically less than 15 hours, is what promotes flowering in hop plants. With Florida being farther south, the maximum day length is less than 14 hours. The vines were much shorter when flowering began, and flowering was spread out over an extended period. Agehara was able to remedy that by installing LED lights.
“With LED lights, we can extend day length. As long as the day length is more than 15 hours, the hops plants don’t initiate flowering, so they keep growing taller and thicker,” he said. “When they have sufficient vines, we can turn off the lights so plants can initiate flowering.”
A multidisciplinary approach
Deng has 14 popular hops varieties in a trial to determine which ones are best suited for the Florida environment. So far, the replanted clean vines are doing much better than the earlier ones.
“I think the LED lights are going to be key to maximizing yields,” he said. “So far this season, they are looking far different from the other seasons. Now I can see if they can produce a good yield.”
Vallad is focusing on potential diseases. He’s already found the fungal diseases caused by Cercospera and Alternaria on the plants and cones and is developing a disease-management strategy. His program also monitors for powdery mildew and downy mildew, which are two of the most problematic diseases in traditional hops production areas.
As for pests, in the early plantings Smith noticed spider mites were causing damage, and he continues to monitor the replanted vines.
“They can really take off once conditions are right,” he said. “It’s still been pretty cool here (in early April), so we haven’t seen an outbreak of mites.”
Smith said the newness of the crop has him keeping his eyes open for other pests.
Desaeger is looking at the potential impact of soil-borne nematodes, particularly the ubiquitous root-knot nematode. Although the hopyard was fumigated before the vines were replanted, he already has found some pockets of the root-feeding pests that have returned.
“Root-knot is the most common in Florida,” he said. “They pretty much feed on any crop we plant.”
When nematodes feed on the roots, the plant reacts by forming easily identifiable galls on the root tissue which interfere with proper root function, including water and nutrient uptake. Desaeger will examine the number of galls and the nematode levels in the soil among the cultivars to see if there are differences.
“With hops in Florida, especially a perennial crop that is a good host for root-knot, nematode management will be important,” he said.
A research-industry partnership
Bollin continues to work with local breweries to gather their input. A few have already made batches of beer using the locally grown hops.
“We’re also trying to get information from the (beer) production side so we can find hops that match both of our needs,” Deng said. “After producing hops here, we want to provide hops to them so we can get input if they can make a high-quality beer.”
Although Bollin remains optimistic, he said the jury is still out about the potential for hops in Florida.
“There are thousands and thousands of acres of citrus around the state, and hops are not going to replace them -- nor do I think they should,” he said. “I think hops could offer some Florida growers a potential alternative crop, whether that’s to citrus or to some other crop. Whether you’re growing cows, citrus or strawberries, if you’re going to remain in business you have to be profitable. We haven’t done the cost-benefit ratios on hops yet, but hopefully it will turn out to be a profitable, cost-effective crop to produce and be able to market.”
Andrews offers advice on raising great adults
Humorist, consultant, and author of best-selling “The Noticer” and “The Traveler’s Gift,” Andy Andrews delivered an inspirational message sprinkled with personal anecdotes to attendees at the traditional Cracker Breakfast during FFVA 2017.
Parents shouldn’t worry about raising fine children, he said. Instead, think about how you can guide them to becoming great adults. "We have a whole lot of disrespectful behaviors in America that will not helpful to a child's future career opportunities," he said. "You have to explain why that's the case, and persuade them to make a change for the better."
"I can't run or sing very well, but I notice little things that make a big difference in the lives of individuals and families," he said. "Even as a little kid, I remember my mom telling me, 'Be careful or you'll poke your eye out with a stick.' I knew that a stick would poke your eye inward, rather than out, but I didn't argue with her."
In consulting with football teams, Andrews said he's noticed that all coaches urge their players to play as hard as they can from the moment the ball is snapped until the whistle is blown. "But there’s another whole game that no one talks about, and that’s what happens the ball is not in play," he said. "So if you can compete in a totally different way, like from the ref’s whistle to the next snap of the football, you can run your opponent off the field."
In business, Andrews said almost every company competes on the basis of price and product. But when he asked the audience if anyone had ever paid extra for a product they like or patronized a store where they have a relationship with the owner or manager, virtually everyone raised their hands. "That tells us that there's something more important that product or price in business, and that's who you are, including your desires, values and friends."
To parents, Andrews emphasized the importance of teaching children solid principles to guide their actions. "It's a better way for them to live their lives than searching online for an answer to their issues," he said, adding that these seven principles apply to adults as well:
• Taking responsibility. Everyone makes choices in response to the crazy things in life, he said. “Don't blame others; take control of your life and see if that takes you to a place you like or don't like,” he said. “That's what the game of life is all about.”
• Seeking wisdom. Noting that wisdom is different from knowledge, Andrews said, "The best question we can ask our kids is simply this: 'Is this a wise thing to do?' "
• Doing something. Don’t sit on the sofa hoping for something to change. Instead, take action and make something happen in your life.
• Having a decided heart. Rather than over-analyzing your choices and second-guessing your decisions, make your choices and move on. “You can't always made right decisions every time, but you don't want to analyze everything to death,” he said.
• Choosing to be happy. “You can choose whether to see the glass as half empty or half full,” Andrews said. “So, make a conscious choice to be happy.”
• Forgiving others. Think of this as a life strategy, he said. “Let go of the bad things that have happened to you and move forward.”
• Persisting without exception. When faced with an obstacle, don’t give up. Instead, keep on going, without excuses, until you come out on the other side.
"I know that everyone in this room suffered in some way from Hurricane Irma," said Andrews. Noting that his Alabama home was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, he added, "My wife and I lost our house, but not our family. While it's not easy, I encourage you to say ‘thanks’ and embrace the spirit of gratefulness."
Investment in ELDP brings significant returns
By Travis Kuhn, Spring Valley Farms
There are a lot of things to be learned in a classroom, but there is no substitute for experience. I am thankful to FFVA for the ELDP program and the opportunity to learn from others. Agriculture is a dynamic industry in every way. This program provided amazing insight into how it’s changing around the country and here right outside our doorstep. The program brings to the forefront of every participant’s mind the need to be vigilant and persevere. Learning of the battles people such as Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange have waged to protect producers in our state and the war that drags on every day in Tallahassee around our rights to responsibly farm is sobering.
But the program was also encouraging. To see what industry peers have accomplished and built with determination and ingenuity is inspiring. It fans the flames and gives me a target to strive for. That target looks like involvement, entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship. It looks like teamwork and fellowship.
The program encompasses such a wide array of agriculture. It’s hard to envision a way to fit any more into the program than we did. Every producer, legislator, industry representative and even our bus driver offered a surprising amount of honesty. They entrusted us with their knowledge, struggles and triumphs. They listened to our questions and offered solutions and we reciprocated in kind when possible.
I have a strong appreciation for the value FFVA gives to the specialty crop industry. It’s hard to imagine what our industry would look like without a body that unifies us. The staff of FFVA works hard building a commercial atmosphere we can thrive in. Each staff member is passionate about what they do and it shows through their successes as our representatives and counselors. Sonia Tighe’s efforts on this program do not go unnoticed, and we commend her for that. The support of the FFVA membership and corporate sponsors for this program are an investment with significant returns in the future of Florida agriculture.
Rick Roth's 1st term in Legislature: 'Much more than I expected'
By Mick Lochridge
A respected farmer and business owner in South Florida, Rick Roth has long advocated for issues beneficial to his community and Florida’s agriculture industry. His leadership positions with farming organizations, along with his own successful commercial operations, have provided him with experiences and insight to tackle an even bigger role – in the state Legislature.
Roth, 64, just finished his freshman term in the Florida House of Representatives, where he represented District 85, which includes Palm Beach Gardens, Juno Beach, North Palm Beach, the Acreage and parts of Loxahatchee, Royal Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.
“The decision to run was a natural outgrowth and next step in my career as a business owner, farmer and landowner in Florida,” he said. “I have been involved in politics and farm policy for more than 30 years and have encouraged others to get more involved by setting a good example.”
“In the end,” he added, “the decision to run was answering the call to step up and do more for my country.”
A third-generation farmer, Roth joined his father in the family business in 1976 after graduating from Emory University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 1986 he became the president and principal owner of Roth Farms, a closely held family farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area near Belle Glade. The company, with 20 full-time and 150 seasonal employees, grows radishes, leafy vegetables, rice, sugar cane, sweet corn, green beans and celery.
In 2007 Roth opened a state-of-the-art packinghouse in Belle Glade, naming it Ray’s Heritage after his father. The plant handles radishes, sweet corn, green beans, leafy vegetables and celery.
Active in the agriculture community, he serves on the boards of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. In addition, he is president and founding board member of the Florida Rice Growers Association and serves on the Farmers Feeding Florida Advisory Committee to Feeding Florida.
Married 39 years, Roth and his wife, Jeanie, have lived in Wellington for 38 years and have three adult children and three grandchildren.
FFVA caught up with Roth to ask him about his experience in the Legislature.
FFVA: Was your first term in the Legislature what you expected?
Roth: My first term in office was so much more than I expected. The amount of information and knowledge required to evaluate and vote on hundreds of bills is overwhelming. Fortunately, it is still easier than vegetable farming in Florida. I was impressed with the level of expertise of legislators and staff on every subject imaginable.
FFVA: What were your biggest accomplishments?
Roth: I developed key friendships with members to discuss pending legislation. I introduced two bills (dealing with regulations for hospice services and public records for agriculture research) that were signed into law, and I gained valuable insight into passing future bills. Just as important, I participated on different levels to amend or stop legislation that I had problems with.
FFVA: What do you hope to accomplish during the next session?
Roth: I am a big-picture guy. I am pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-environment. If you are anti-business and pro-environment, please move to Denmark. I am working on several bills under the broad categories of efficient government, public safety and civility.
FFVA: How do you juggle your legislative duties with your farm business?
Roth: In an ideal world, every farmer’s goal is to pass on the family farm to the next generation. I have been blessed with the family and great employees to run the day-to-day operations. God’s timing is perfect. My adult children have their careers, and this step gives them greater opportunities and responsibilities.
FFVA: What qualities did you take from the farm to the Legislature?
Roth: I am a small-town business owner. I am privileged to have grown up, lived and worked in the same community all my life. For years I have said, “I live in Belle Glade. I sleep in Wellington.” I learned early in life that everything works better when you work hard and are honest. Finally, as a business owner, you become adept at solving problems and evaluating the performance of everyone you work with, including yourself.
FFVA: In what ways do your farming experiences make you a better lawmaker?
Roth: In agriculture, you learn quickly that there are certain things that have to be done today. Second, farmers are long-term planners. So you believe in long-term strategic planning to accomplish big goals. You learn patience and understand that waiting is work, too.
FFVA: What have you learned in Tallahassee that you can use in your farming business?
Roth: My main focus as a legislator is to “always tell the truth without making people mad.” That is accomplished in part by the phrase “less is more.” My goal is to keep debates and discussions short and to the point.
FFVA: What issues that affect other farmers have you fought for – and against?
Roth: There were several bills lowering taxes and regulations that help all business owners, which include the constitutional amendments to increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 and cap the non-homestead exemption to a maximum 10 percent annual increase permanently. We were also able to include veterinary medicine and other items in the category of sales tax-exempt agriculture expenses.
California tour gives leadership group new insights
A three-day California production tour opened a window to new crops and production practices for Class 6 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Company presidents and farm managers opened their operations to the group as it traveled across the Salinas Valley June 25-27.
It was the fifth and final session for the class before it graduates at FFVA’s annual convention in September. The class began its year together with an orientation at FFVA’s offices in November. In January they toured South Florida farms and packinghouses, and they visited with legislators in Tallahassee in March.
In California, the class saw some crops for the first time, including apples, mushrooms, artichokes and wine grapes. They also learned, however, that many of the same issues pose challenges in California just as they do in Florida.
The tour gave the class the opportunity to discuss farming challenges in detail with leaders of the California companies. The No. 1 concern raised repeatedly by the hosts was the serious shortage of labor. A close second was over-regulation by the state and federal governments. And though the California drought may be over, growers cited long-term water quality and quantity concerns. They also discussed the need for innovation to stay efficient and competitive in the marketplace.
In addition to seeing production practices in the fields, the group also toured major several receiving, cooling, packing and shipping operations. Meeting with agriculture leaders in Salinas, they heard about the top issues facing growers in the valley and work by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California on those issues.
The group also learned about innovations underway in mechanical harvesting and precision agriculture.
“I was amazed at how cutting-edge their farming practices are, specifically in harvesting,” said class member Jeff Searcy of Helena Chemical. “The technological advances they have made in mechanical harvesting clearly show their focus on efficiency, and more importantly food safety.”
A special thanks to Driscoll’s for hosting the ELDP for dinner on the first night of the trip.
Tour stops and hosts were:
Uesugi Farms in Gilroy, Pete Aiello – peppers
DiMare Company in Gilroy, Jeff Dolan – tomatoes
Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, Vince Gizdich – apples and peaches
Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville, Matt Fuller – mushrooms
Driscoll’s in Aromas and Watsonville, various hosts – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Mark Reasons and Glenn Alameda – artichokes
Duda in Salinas, Sammy Duda – celery
Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Jim Bogart; Monterey County Commissioner of Agriculture Eric Lauritzen; Kim Stemler, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association
Bengard Ranch in Salinas, Bridget Rotticci – broccoli
Taylor Farms in Salinas, Rigo Ramirez – bagged salad processing
Taylor Farms in Salinas, Chris Rotticci – automated lettuce harvesting
D’Arrigo in Salinas, Mark Houle and Daniel DeLorimier – vegetable and strawberry receiving, cooling, shipping
Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, Ashley Pipkin and Nick Sgheiza – lettuce
Ramsay Highlander in Gonzales, Frank Maconachy – mechanical harvesting
Pisoni Vineyards in Soledad, Mark Pisoni – wine grapes
New company gives landowners a link to additional revenue
By Mick Lochridge
John Evans, a member of a longtime Florida farming and real estate family, turned his light bulb of an idea into a money-making venture by connecting property owners with folks looking to lease land for everything from cows to crops to camping.
His company’s website, LandLeaseExchange.com, provides a space for landowners to post photos and descriptions of property available for lease. For example, a 544-acre farm near Wildwood has four wells and is suitable for growing onions, peanuts and watermelons. In Volusia County, there is a 200-acre cattle ranch with fencing and cow pens. In the coastal bayous of Louisiana, a hunting and fishing lodge offers a haven for both sportsmen and nature lovers.
From his job in agriculture real estate as vice president of Maury L. Carter & Associates in Orlando, Evans was in the perfect position to see the opportunity for creating the new business.
“We get hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited phone calls a year on the properties in our portfolio from individuals and companies looking to lease or rent our properties for various reasons,” he said. “I recognized this enormous need and demand for private land use. But I also recognized something else. Landowners of all types are constantly looking for ways to make additional income or generate new revenue streams on their land.”
So he created a way for the two parties to connect, launching the website this past spring. The service is available in every state, and there are nearly 40 listings, most in Florida. The cost is $75 a month to list a property; there is no charge to visit the site and search for land. FFVA members can receive a nine-month free trial with discount code FFVALLE17.
“No property is too small or too big,” said Evans, president and CEO of Land Lease Exchange. “Lease all of your land or just a portion.”
One of his clients is Lykes Bros., an agribusiness with land in Florida and Texas. The company listed three Florida properties on the exchange, two for hunting leases in Glades County and a preserve with a lodge suitable for company retreats and family gatherings in Glades County.
“We have had tremendous interest in both of the hunting lands, and we are in the process of leasing them,” said Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, vice president of strategic development for the company. She added that other lands, including property in west Texas, would be evaluated for including on the exchange.
That fits right in with Evans’ plan.
“We provide something that has never existed, a marketplace where landowners and land users can connect,” Evans said. “It’s a service that has not been available and that is in huge demand by both.”
Most of the initial land posted for leasing centers on traditional farming. Yet Evans said he expected interest to build for recreational and other uses.
“Livestock and production agriculture crops are just the beginning as these sites are in huge demand for leasing across our state and country,” he said. “But there is an enormous segment of our population looking for recreational opportunities too, such as hunting, camping, horseback riding.” Landowners also can post their agri-tourism properties.
Evans, 32, is a 2008 graduate of the University of Mississippi with a degree in real estate finance. A seventh-generation Floridian, he lives in Winter Park with wife Ann and son Jack, 1.
His family’s companies are Nelson & Co. Inc. and Evans Groves, based in Oviedo. His family has been farming since the 1880s in Florida and grows citrus and blueberries.
“My family is in agriculture and real estate. I love both,” he said. “I also love hunting and the outdoors. I wanted a career that would meld all of those things together, which landed me with my current position in the agri-real estate industry. And that led me to LandLeaseExchange.com.”
Alan Chambers impacts Miami
By Jack Payne
Alan Chambers moved to South Florida last year to create only-in-Miami food.
He wants to give you a sweeter papaya with an aroma you can pick up from five feet away. He hopes to eventually offer you a mango with smoother flesh (not the kind with the stringy yellow stuff inside). He’s looking for an avocado that grows consistently so your customers can afford it all the time.
He’d even like to see the return of the Miami lime, a rarity even on the rim of a mojito glass these days.
Chambers came here for the food. He believes that in a place where the climate is so hospitable to tropical fruits, Miamians should enjoy locally grown produce. Here in South Florida, you have the opportunity to eat and grow food that wouldn’t be exactly the same if it were grown in Mexico, California, or even North Florida.
No, Chambers is not a chef. He’s a scientist. He delves into the molecular recipes of tropical fruits to see if he can find the one that’s best suited to Miami’s soils, precipitation, humidity — and your taste buds.
Chambers works for the University of Florida. In his lab at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, he’s paid to “invent” food that keeps local farmers working and consumers enjoying the fruits of that innovation.
His success will mean fresher food that travels fewer miles and keeps more food dollars here.
Chambers has a lot of help. In fact, the research center has experts who have been working on better food for years. Chambers joins the team as part of a new generation of scientists with expertise in modern plant-breeding methods.
He has help at home, too. He might be the only dad whose kids ask for a piece of fruit by its experimental breeding number. The brutal honesty of those six kids makes them great taste testers of food created with traditional cross-breeding methods. They’ll also be some of the first mouths to try future fruits that Chambers and his colleagues will discover much more rapidly by borrowing technologies from medicine.
UF/IFAS is all over the state, but with the support of local legislators it has invested a great deal in scientists, labs and other buildings at the Tropical Research and Education Center in the past two years. Now the center’s researchers can work harder than ever to develop new twists on your old favorites, from guavas to bananas to avocados.
State funding made it possible to bring Chambers and others here to work on local challenges. UF/IFAS has added building space and equipment to give these scientists the tools they need to contribute to the health of Miami’s people and its economy.
The new tools and techniques that Chambers and others use to breed new varieties of fruit enable them to make these contributions sooner.
Miami is a special place. It deserves special food. Now.
In the past, it might have taken 10 years to develop a new variety of fruit. But with new technologies, Chambers hopes to do it in a year or two – not after his 9-year-old has graduates from high school.
Chambers and UF/IFAS also want his children to be able to buy local as grown-ups. That means helping local farmers survive plant-eating bugs that hitchhike into Miami on ships and planes, more droughts and hurricanes, and the volatility of markets.
A lot of the science to make that happen will come out of the research center in Homestead. The university, the state, and the local farming community will all continue to work together to make sure that science works for you.
We think you’ll enjoy the result every time you feed yourself or your kids.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
FFVA Chairman profile
By Doug Ohlemeier
FFVA Chairman Paul OrsenigoPaul Orsenigo, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s newest chairman, always wanted to be a farmer.
Though Orsenigo, owner of Belle Glade-based Orsenigo Farms Inc., and co-owner of Growers Management, wasn’t raised in a farming family, he developed a love for growing things at a young age.
LOVE OF GROWING
His late father, Dr. Joseph Orsenigo, was a plant physiologist and weed scientist at the University of Florida’s Belle Glade experiment station. At eight years of age, the younger Orsenigo grew backyard gardens.
He says he was fortunate to have his avocation his career. “The beauty of farming is that it is a blend of art and science,” Orsenigo said. “Each artist paints what he or she chooses to paint and uses his own creativity and inventiveness. The grower has to have a feel for the condition of the crop.”
Orsenigo’s dream job has grown into a successful operation. Orsenigo Farms grows sugarcane, rice and other various crops while Growers Management grows and packs sweet corn and lettuce such as spring mix and other leaf items.
After graduating from the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture in 1979, Orsenigo worked for several growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area. He first became involved with FFVA during the late 1980s shortly after starting Orsenigo Farms. In 2000, he and David Basore started Growers Management.
For Orsenigo, the strength of FFVA is its membership as well as its staff’s knowledge and leadership. FFVA harvests expertise from its members, which hail from a variety of positions, including company owners, presidents, managers and those from different talent bases.
In 1994, he joined FFVA’s board and was also involved in committees including production and natural resources. In 2014, Orsenigo was elected FFVA vice chairman. “I want to express my gratitude to the membership for electing me to serve,” he said.
The organization continues to evolve to help its members by finding solutions to meet today’s business challenges. Building consensus on the important issues remains vital and FFVA has adapted to remain progressive and responsive to its members’ needs.
“We at FFVA have a systemic approach to get people involved by not just sitting around and listening to lectures, but by giving them an opportunity to provide input and employing their knowledge based on firsthand experiences,” Orsenigo said. “That reinforces our organizational strength.”
Orsenigo and Basore strive to incorporate production advances and keep up with consumer trends. One advancement for Growers Management is growing herbs on plastic with drip irrigation, which provides multiple harvests. The company started the experimental project in 2016 and the two plan to expand it next year.
“It takes an intangible talent to understand the needs of the crop, incorporating technology into that which is helping us grow more consistent crops more economically and producing wholesome and nutritious foods that consumers are looking for,” Orsenigo said.
Encouraging the next generation to work in agriculture is important to Orsenigo. He supports FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, which helps broaden young agriculture professionals’ understanding of the produce industry and prepares them for future FFVA involvement.
Orsenigo’s son, Derek Orsenigo, 30, also graduated from the University of Florida and is Grower’s Management’s sweet corn operations manager. David Basore’s son, Dave Basore, 22, works in leafy vegetable production while pursuing his education.
“Commitment and management by successive generations is critical,” the older Orsenigo said. “As we get older and have children who choose to go into a family business, the choice should be for the right reasons and to help advance and move forward the family business.”
Blackberries spelling year-round success for Wish Farms
In October, FFVA producer member Wish Farms announced it was expanding its year-round offerings of strawberries and blueberries to include blackberries.
How’s it going? Very well, thank you.
The Plant City-based operation founded in 1922 decided to get into the blackberry business at the request of its customers. “Since they buy strawberries and blueberries from us, it was natural for them to ask if we had blackberries and raspberries,” said Jose Saca, director of blackberry and raspberry operations at Wish Farms. “So the company made the decision earlier this year to provide blackberries and raspberries,” he said.
At this time, Wish Farms offers raspberries during the Mexican growing season from October to May, but one of the program’s goals is to offer them year-round as well.
“Blackberries are the perfect complement to our year-round berry program,” said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms. “In just one phone call, customers can now choose to order an assortment of berries.”
The Mexico blackberry season runs from the beginning of October to the end of May. Wish Farms then makes the transition to berries grown in Georgia, North Carolina and California.
“Unfortunately at this time, Florida is not a big blackberry producing state,” Saca said. “Maybe with new varieties coming from the University of Arkansas, that might change. We certainly are going to do some tests with Florida growers who are interested. Of course, we would love to have local production in Florida. At this time, blackberries are produced on only a few small patches for U-pick purposes.”
Saca says customers have accepted the blackberries with enthusiasm, and production and sales are more robust than he and his team had expected. “We’re at a point where customers are going to be demanding more. We’re probably going to sell 15 to 25 percent more than what we thought we could do,” he said.
And Saca said that although heavy rains made the Mexico season a challenge, Wish’s customers have faith in the company’s ability to provide quality product. “It’s been an easy job for me because the company has such a good reputation,” he said. “The customer trusts that we will provide not only quality product, but service as well. That’s very important in the industry. The staff follows through if there are any issues, deliveries are on time – we try to meet the customer’s demands on anything they want. We bend over backward to please our customers.”
Learn more about Wish Farms’ blackberries on the blackberry page of the company’s website.
Producer Profile: Generation Farms – helping generations of families grow stronger
Generation Farms comprises three farms that, working together, strive to be the premier vegetable and fruit supplier for the East Coast. The entity includes third-generation operation Coggins Farms, which began in 1945. Stanley Farms began growing Vidalia onions in 1975, although family patriarch R.T. Stanley began farming as a sharecropper in 1964. A third, Suwanee farms, was founded in 1979 in the Suwannee River Basin and expanded into other areas of Florida and Georgia.
They work to bring “the freshest produce to market faster, and help to promote sustainable farming practices,” said Jamie Brannen, a new member of the FFVA board of directors and general manager of produce for Generation Farms.
Generation Farms grows a wide variety of seasonal and year-round produce. A star in its show is onions. For more than three generations, the Stanley family has run one of the most respected onion-growing and processing operations in the South. Their growers bring a legacy of high-quality processing and operational management to Generation Farms’ crop—not to mention some of the most delicious onions east of the Mississippi River.
The operation is also the largest grower, packer and shipper of carrots on the East Coast, allowing it to accommodate orders of any size or variety. With three generations of carrot-growing expertise, the Coggins family name is synonymous with quality produce throughout the Southeast.
“We begin the year with carrots coming out of the Gainesville area and move to the Madison County area. We also have sweet potatoes and green beans from these same areas,” Brannen said. “We move up a little to around Jennings for onions and blueberries.” The farms also grow kale and watermelons.
Generation Farms boasts the largest organic acreage on the East Coast as well.
Among the operation’s priorities are food safety and sustainability. It is committed to delivering the highest possible food safety standards in every part of its operation. All facilities and farms are audited by third parties against one or more Global Food Safety Initiative schemes. Certification under the GFSI auditing schemes requires the Generation Farms team to be constantly prepared for an inspection.
As far as sustainability, the operation is keenly focused on conserving and protecting precious water resources. “We’re implementing and pursuing a number of innovative water management activities,” said Brannen. “Specifically, we have processes in place to use third-party water and land professionals to assess projects before implementing to make sure we are using best agricultural practices for the environment.
“It’s encouraging to see a company put their money where their mouth is. We hear about both food safety and sustainability all the time from companies all across produce, and a lot of times it’s just marketing. But at Generation Farms we fully utilize our resources to be the best we can be in both areas,” Brannen said.
All that work takes good people at all levels. “I think our greatest challenge is labor. We grow crops that are very hands-on and take a lot of people. Potatoes, onions and berries are all hand-harvested and managing that many people can be very challenging,” Brannen said.
In spite of the challenges of maintaining such high standards, it’s rewarding. Brannen said they are committed to living up to their mission.
“Our mission at Generation Farms is to help generations of families grow stronger through access to quality food,” Brannen said.
Learn more about Generation Farms at generationfarms.com.