Opinion: It’s Time To Sharpen Your Competitive Edge

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Paul Rusnak

If you are into sports, this time of year is right in your wheelhouse. College football dominates Saturdays, the pros are playing on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays, NASCAR is in the thick of “The Chase,” and the Major Leaguers are in playoff mode. Having an extra set of batteries on hand for the TV remote is highly recommended.

For true sports fans, everyone loves a close contest. It’s a special feeling to be witness to — or to be part of — the competitive fire that stokes the desire in each and every player to raise his or her game for the ultimate outcome. This kind of synergy isn’t confined to just sports. Competition between business adversaries can and does have a positive effect on an entire sector. Quality of a product takes precedent over quantity, new and improved versions are offered, pricing becomes advantageous for consumers, demand goes up, sales skyrocket, everyone wins, right? Well … in a perfect world.

In The Red Zone

The Florida tomato industry finds itself amid a pitched battle of its own. While growers here have enjoyed a longstanding home field advantage, they are now finding more opponents than ever deep in their own territory. Exclusive market windows be damned, producers in Mexico and Canada are growing, packing, and exporting product year round into the U.S. thanks in large part to the proliferated use of protected agriculture. This has made a profound impact on an already stressed situation.

Besides competition, factors such as foodborne illness scares, pests and disease, and just plain ole economics have changed the face of the Florida tomato industry in recent years. According to Reggie Brown, executive VP of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, there are roughly 50 large commercial tomato growers left in the Sunshine State. That number strikes me as shockingly low, especially for a state that stands as the second-highest producer in the U.S.

So, what’s happened? Many have consolidated, others have gone under. Many more will either be consumed by larger operations or finished off entirely if things stay the same.

No Time Outs Left

All of the factors affecting the tomato industry make it a complex issue that’s hard to digest in one serving. This month’s cover story attempts to slice into the matter, gather feedback from some of the main players, and give direction for the crossroads that lie ahead. Of course, these kinds of tough decisions aren’t unique just to tomato growers. It’s an eat or be eaten world. A competitive spirit is needed to move forward, whether it’s the defensive stance associated with an old school solution to survival, or the offensive mindset of a new day. No matter what fork is chosen, an “underdog” label is likely to come with it, which is OK. The one thing that’s better than a close game — sports fan or not — is a comeback. Let the games begin.

Paul Rusnak is managing editor of Florida Grower and managing online editor for Growing Produce, a Meister Media Worldwide brand.

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