Field Tour Provides Reality Check For Florida Regulators

Field Tour Provides Reality Check For Florida Regulators

Tour stop during the FFVA Spring Regulatory Tour 2016

Wes Roan of Lipman Produce addresses attendees during FFVA’s Spring Regulatory Tour.
Photo by Lisa Lochridge

An annual rite of spring for FFVA is its Spring Regulatory Tour for representatives of federal and state agencies that monitor Florida agriculture. Participants meet with producers, see production practices up close, and have the chance to discuss with growers the effects of regulations on their ability to produce crops.

The five-day trip crossed South Florida and included stops in Palm Beach, Glades, Hendry, Collier, Lee, and Charlotte counties. The group toured golf course pest management, ornamentals and chrysanthemums, sandland vegetable production, citrus processing and production, sugar cane production, muck vegetable production, and mosquito control.

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Attendees included representatives from the EPA, USDA, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Many of the participants had never been on a Florida farm.

Water And Weather

The topic of water dominated many of the discussions, and the week started off with an overview of water management in South Florida and the unique conditions under which specialty crop producers farm. With the region coming off the wettest January since recordkeeping began, participants got to see the adverse effects on crops of heavy rainfall, flooding, and 50 mph winds. “It’s been a vicious year of weather for us,” Wes Roan of Lipman Produce told the group. He discussed the diseases that have been problematic for peppers and tomatoes as a result.

Most of the stops focused on specialty crop production, and growers discussed their spraying programs, integrated pest management, and irrigation methods. It’s a time for participants to ask questions and gain a better understanding of how agriculture companies use crop protection tools.

Participants are asked whether their impression of the regulatory environment faced by agriculture and others in Florida changed as a result of the tour.

Being on the farms, seeing crops, and observing harvests gives them a new perspective of the effects of the regulations they write. “It is always enlightening to know what burdens regulation places on an industry,” one participant remarked.

The experience also shines some light on other aspects of farming outside of the regulators’ scope of work. “I had no idea about water regulations, food safety requirements, and worker regulations,” one said. “There are more than just pesticide regulations. It is a collaboration between the regulators and the growers to ensure adequate conditions now and in the future.”

A Grim Look At Greening

In addition to water, citrus greening and the dire toll it has taken on the statewide citrus industry dominated the discussion. The group spent a half-day visiting the processing plant and groves of Southern Gardens Citrus in Clewiston.

Vice President Jim Snively took participants through the groves and showed the effects of greening on trees and fruit, explaining the advanced production strategies being used until solutions are found through research. To cap off the morning, Southern Gardens President Rick Kress outlined the company’s multiple research projects being conducted on several fronts to develop solutions. Despite the dire outlook, Kress remains positive. “We will find solutions,” he said firmly. “We will survive.”

The plant tour, field tour, and discussion drove home the gravity of greening and its effects on Florida’s signature crop. It clearly made an impression on participants. “The economic understanding gained through their transparency of business practices was valuable,” one said.

The tour is conducted under the auspices of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.

Dan Botts, FFVA’s VP of Industry Resources, has been leading similar tours since the mid-1980s.