Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.
Along with pollen, school vacation, and Easter egg hunts, a traditional rite of spring at FFVA is the five-day Spring Regulatory Tour. Each year, FFVA and several major sponsors invite representatives from various state and federal regulatory agencies to visit a variety of agriculture operations.
This year’s tour hosted about two dozen guests from the EPA, Florida’s Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, and three of the state’s water management districts. FFVA Vice President of Industry Resources Dan Botts organized this tour, the 25th, which took place in late March.
Over the five days, the group travels from Fort Myers to Belle Glade, and back to Naples. It gives the participants, who are responsible for regulating many aspects of agriculture from water quality to pesticide use, a firsthand look at ag production. For some, it is the first time they have been on a farm.
It’s a rigorous schedule and a major commitment of time for the visitors, who come from Washington, DC, Atlanta, Tallahassee, and other parts of Florida. In addition, several FFVA members devote hours of their time participating as hosts at stops along the way.
Seeing Is Believing
Before they hit the road, participants get a comprehensive overview of water management and regulation in South Florida by Terrie Bates of the South Florida Water Management District. Each host explains production practices, integrated pest management programs, water use and monitoring, market conditions, and other topics. The format encourages conversation and question-and-answer exchanges so participants can gain insight into how the regulations they write affect producers.
Year after year, the tour gets high marks from attendees. Dr. Donna Judkins, a biologist with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, said of this year’s tour, “I think this kind of learning is extremely valuable for EPA employees tasked with assessing the risk to the environment and human health from pesticide use. It promotes understanding of pesticide use. A picture is worth a thousand words.”
The participants also come away with a better understanding of the myriad challenges Florida producers face, whether it is weather, competition from low-cost imports, plant pests and diseases, food safety, and labor issues.
For example, during the stop at Barron Collier/Silver Strand, farm manager John Hoffman provided an overview of the citrus industry and the company’s citrus operations. Participants saw demonstrations of mechanical harvesting, precision pesticide application, and tree topping. UF/IFAS researcher Dr. Bob Rouse spoke to the group about citrus canker, citrus greening, and citrus black spot. He also outlined ongoing research efforts where trees are being treated with combinations of nutrients and a systemic acquired resistance program [learn about this by clicking here
One of FFVA’s strengths, members say, is its strong working relationships with lawmakers and regulatory agencies. The tour is a prime example of how FFVA continues to make a difference for its members.