Last week, members of the Western Growers (WG) Future Volunteer Leaders Program (FVLP) joined their counterparts from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) Emerging Leader Development Program on a three-day tour of Southern Florida produce operations. With generous support from Farm Credit, the two leadership groups had the opportunity to observe leading Florida fruit and vegetable producers and network with peers from other key specialty crop producing regions of the country. The Florida production tour is the first half of a reciprocal exchange between the two leadership programs as members of the FFVA leadership group will travel to California to tour Salinas-area produce operations in June.
The goal of the Florida and California production tours is twofold. First, the tours allow members of the two leadership classes to develop an appreciation for the diversity of commodities and production practices employed by fruit and vegetable producers in another leading specialty crop state. Secondly, and more importantly, the tours provide the opportunity for the next generation of agricultural leaders to begin developing the bonds that will allow the fresh produce industry to remain competitive and profitable in the face of mounting challenges both now and in the coming decades.
Highlights from the tour included visits to Lipman Farms, one of the largest fresh tomato growers in the United States; TKM Bengard, the largest leafy greens grower east of the Mississippi; R.C. Hatton, one of the largest shippers of sweet corn in the country; and A. Duda & Sons, a significant player in the Florida sugarcane and citrus industry. Additionally, the group had the opportunity to visit a sugar mill operated by the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, observe a sugar cane burning on a field owned by the U.S. Sugar Corporation, and tour the not-from-concentrate orange juice processing facility at Southern Gardens Citrus.
The tour concluded on Friday, January 24th, with an industry roundtable forum featuring Tom Stenzel, President of United Fresh Produce Association, Mike Stuart, President of FFVA, and Cory Lunde, Project Manager with Western Growers. The three panelists discussed top federal priorities for the fresh produce industry, including the farm bill and immigration reform, as well as common issues between fruit and vegetable producers in California and Florida, including labor, water, food safety, and environmental regulations. The event was held at the Everglades Research & Education Center in Belle Glade, Florida and was also covered in The Packer.
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