Eleven young agriculture professionals are getting a well-rounded education this year on Florida specialty crop agriculture through FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program (ELDP). The program identifies young leaders and equips them with information and tools to become strong advocates for agriculture.
Class 6 toured South Florida farming and packing operations in mid-January. The tour took in stops in Belle Glade, South Bay, LaBelle, Clewiston, Loxahatchee, and Boynton Beach. Over 2½ days, the group packed in multiple stops to see production, harvesting, and packing of sugarcane, leafy greens, citrus, tomatoes, and more.
Paul Orsenigo, FFVA Chairman and Co-Owner of Grower’s Management Inc. in Belle Glade, kicked off the tour with an overview of leafy greens production. Orsenigo discussed with frankness the challenges of the markets and oversupply in some vegetable crops. Stellar weather last fall that produced bumper crops combined with low demand, created a glut that hurt growers.
Orsenigo is one of several FFVA board members who were instrumental in launching the ELDP. “I wish I’d had the opportunity to participate in something like this when I was your age,” he told the group. “There’s so much to learn.”
He urged the class members to put what they learn to use to benefit agriculture and become involved in FFVA committees. “You are the future,” he said.
During the tour, class members have the unique chance to have open and honest discussions with CEOs and managers and tap into their knowledge.
“The ELDP Florida production tour was one of the most beneficial opportunities of my agricultural career,” said Travis Kuhn of Spring Hill Farms. “Interacting face to face with the farmers and advocates for our industry is a formative experience without equal.”
Class members also toured RCMA’s Early Childhood Center in Belle Glade, which has early Head Start, Head Start, and Migrant Head Start programs. The center director talked about the success of RCMA’s programs along with the unique challenges they face educating children of migrant workers. A large donation of food was dropped off for the families of the Center’s students.
Sugarcane also was a focus for Day 1. Les Baucum of U.S. Sugar Corp. explained the production, harvesting, and milling of sugarcane. Jim Shine of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative discussed water issues associated with the Everglades Agriculture Area and the growers’ use of BMPs to drastically reduce phosphorous in water leaving their farms.
Shine explained the growers’ opposition to environmentalists blaming agriculture for last year’s algae blooms in east and west coast estuaries. And the group heard why taking 60,000 acres of farmland out of production for water storage is not a viable solution to the problem.
After touring the fields and packinghouse at TKM Bengard in Belle Glade with host Nick Basore, the class met with Jonathan Allen at R.C. Hatton to see green bean and corn packing lines. Both Basore and Allen are alumni of the leadership program.
Duda hosts Rob Atchley and Joby Sherrod took the group around the company’s Felda citrus operation, and much of the conversation focused on greening. Atchley also touched on the importance of a steady workforce. “We have to have a functional guestworker program to make this work for us,” he said.
Jamie Williams of Lipman echoed sentiment about the markets for vegetables. “The tomato season has been one of the worst I’ve encountered in a decade,” he said. “Last year’s market was really high. Folks planted the same acreage planted this year … everything was the same, but we got 20% more yields,” he said, adding that Mexico had experienced the same warm, dry fall. “There’s not room in the marketplace for 20% more product.”
The tour was a valuable learning experience for the group. Tony Flottemesch of Lipman said, “The South Florida trip was incredible, as there was so much to see and learn from all of the different farms we went to. This was the first time I saw how sugarcane was burned and harvested. We were fortunate enough to be able to see how orange juice is processed — the equipment is massive. I would like to thank all of the growers who took the time to show us their operations. I don’t know if they realize just how valuable the information that they gave us is.”