Cheers To Those Who Make The Wheels Of Progress Turn [Opinion]

Frank GilesIt is always nice taking a moment to stop and give a deserving person a collective pat on the back for a job well done. That’s what we do in June, celebrating our Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner.
This year’s winner Mike Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, is an excellent choice and deserves a hardy round of applause. In all the years I’ve been involved with the Achievement Award, I’ve not seen the outpouring of support during the nomination process as was given to Mike.

Vic Story, who was our winner in 2012, told me something that has stuck with me about the inner workings of the political wheels that turn daily. “Back when I was younger out working hard in the groves, I didn’t realize there was somebody somewhere looking out for my and other growers’ best interest,” he said. “Somebody out there working to be sure the tariff was in place to keep a level playing field, or someone working to keep products labeled, or helping keep research going and speaking on our behalf in political circles.”
Vic went on to say his experience later in life serving on various association boards and committees gave him a much greater appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes and might be missed in the daily grind of producing a crop.

That sentiment resonates so well with the hard work that Mike has put in during his tenure at Florida Citrus Mutual. Like his nearly four year’s worth of dedication to help the industry obtain dedicated, significant, and long-term research funds in the tune of $125 million included in the 2014 Farm Bill. The long and winding road to get there filled up three flip charts worth of daily “to-dos” and updates on the progress of where research funding stood.
Even Mike admits when he started his job at Mutual, he was a little naive to challenges of the political process. “I just assumed citrus is our signature crop, so everybody is just going to support our needs,” he said. Only if it were that simple.

After the Farm Bill was signed into law, Sen. Bill Nelson, who was a stalwart supporter throughout the process, called to congratulate Mike and said, “You know Mike, it shouldn’t have been this hard.”
But, it was that hard and even though many times it looked like a lost cause, Mike stayed the course and kept the wheels turning and brought a confident resolve to the political process that kept all the necessary stakeholders in the game.
Too many times this kind of work goes unrecognized. We are excited this time it did not as we honor Mike Sparks as the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner. Congrats, Mike!

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