Opinion: Growers Show Amazing Adaptability

Frank Giles

Growing up in the cotton growing region of Georgia, I witnessed the devastating impact the boll weevil had on growers there for many decades. Through the work of amazing scientists and coordination of USDA, the Boll Weevil Eradication Program dramatically changed the landscape for cotton production in America.

The program came with an assessment fee, and you can imagine like with any change, there were those who resisted and insisted the program wouldn’t work. I began my first season scouting cotton during the first year of the eradication program. I was hard pressed to find any boll weevils the entire growing season where before you would find them on about every plant in every field. In a very real sense, the enormously successful eradication program saved America’s cotton growing industry.
I raise this as an example of how growers learn to adapt and survive in the game of agriculture. Having observed farming all my life, I understand it is not a profession for the faint of heart.

Despite the challenges, growers find ways to innovate to stay ahead of the curve. Just look at their per capita productivity increase over the past half century. Today, on average, an American farmer produces enough to feed 155 people. In 1960, the farmer only fed 26 people.
As you flip the pages of this issue, you’ll see examples of this adaptability in our cover story on Fraleigh Nursery and innovation in a pine tree planter planting citrus.

The ability of growers to recognize that change may be upon them also is illustrated in the insightful article by John VanSickle. In it, he presents the disturbing trend of how U.S. tomato growers are losing market share to greenhouse tomato production from Canada and Mexico. The increasing dominance of greenhouse-produced tomatoes is occurring for a number of reasons, partly because of trade rules and partly because of quality.

Our state’s tomato growers have taken a beating in recent years and many recognize that change is upon them. As is often the case, this change is not easy. Many see they are losing share to the tomatoes grown under cover.
I recall hearing one major tomato grower here in Florida asking the question: “Why is it that in the peak of Florida’s tomato season, the grocery store shelves here are packed with imported tomatoes?”
That is a very good question to raise. Some growers are responding to those concerns by adding greenhouse structures and tunnels to gain a competitive edge. They see open field production as an increasingly risky venture given the whims of weather and markets.

In the history of agriculture, this evolution in markets is not new and it will play out again and again in other markets and crops. It is all about the constant pursuit of producing a quality product. Look at the success being enjoyed by the Tasti-Lee tomato in Publix stores. And, that’s a field-grown tomato. Consumers liken the Tasti-Lee to the ripe and red tomatoes they enjoy fresh out of a home-grown garden.

I believe VanSickle’s final two sentences in his article sum it up best: “They are going to need to examine the products they grow in open field cultivation, or they are going to have to transition even faster to greenhouse production. They cannot rest on the past success and hope to have a solid future.”

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