Opinion: Diversify Your Farm Or Die Trying

Paul RusnakA little more than three years ago, the cover of Florida Grower featured a slightly more to-the-point variation to my chosen headline for this op-ed: “Diversify Or Die” it exclaimed. To some, the words emblazoned across the sinister black background may have seemed a bit harsh. Perhaps. But thinking back on it, we were excited to push the envelope conceptually to make a point, and proud to turn heads not only in our company, but also among the audience we serve.

Feb. 2011 Florida Grower cover archiveAt the time, the cover story focused on how one citrus-growing operation had succeeded by building a multilayered business portfolio. The article proved that it can be done and provided examples of how it can be accomplished. The message was relevant then, and is even more so now.

Recurring Theme

Three years is not all that long ago. Frankly, it has gone by in a flash. Since then, it seems almost each and every operation we’ve featured has had a similar story. Choosing not to place all their eggs in one basket (so to speak) is being done out of necessity rather than novelty — and it’s paying off.
Florida Grower’s March cover story fits the profile well in exemplary specialty crop production and profit. It’s been a good year for Dudley Calfee, operations manager of Floral City-based Ferris Farms. Business has been brisk, he was among the latest winners of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ annual Agriculture-Environmental Leadership Award, and now is in the spotlight of Florida Grower. The headline associated with this feature takes the positive approach focusing on the innovation and teamwork that is deserving of accolade. While the farm does dabble in multiple crops and cattle, it’s the fusion of modern technology and sustainable production practices with the touch, feel, and look of “Old Florida” farm life that makes this story worth highlighting.

Look Outward To Change From Within

Calfee himself is a departure from the multitude of multigenerational growers that comprise his sector. He’s relatively new to the industry and has a background in construction. What he may lack in overall farm experience, he makes up for in business know-how. That much is obvious. His “fresh” perspective certainly has pumped new life into a long-established operation, and the results seem to speak for themselves.

Taking a chance on bringing in new blood worked well for Ferris Farms. It could work for you, too. Sometimes, in order to move ahead, one must step outside of his or her comfort zone. It’s possible adjusting what or how you grow is not the answer after all. They key actually may lie in making changes among the people who are tasked to help you grow.

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