The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) welcomed a record crowd of nearly 500 to its 76th annual convention at The Breakers in Palm Beach last month. Attendees heard from top-notch speakers and industry experts on a variety of key topics. They also networked with colleagues and an outstanding roster of sponsors, while enjoying the beautiful beach venue with chamber-of-commerce weather.
At the opening luncheon, FFVA President Mike Joyner commented on his first year and thanked the convention sponsors and attendees for their support. “It is an honor to serve alongside you in the fight for our industry,” he said. “I believe that farming, like teaching, is a calling that provides you with a special opportunity to work with your family.”
In the past year, FFVA has addressed key issues for Florida agriculture, including transportation, trade, labor, water, and food safety, Joyner added. “Our goal at FFVA is to lead on all these issues and exceed your expectations for our association,” he said.
Two issues forums focused on timely topics for producers: outbreaks of blue-green algae and red tide, and ongoing workforce issues.
Three expert panelists with different perspectives discussed “Water Woes: Working Together on Solutions,” moderated by Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District. Panelists included: Dr. Wendy Graham, Swisher Eminent Scholar and Director of the University of Florida Water Institute; Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and Ernie Barnett, Executive Director of the Florida Land Council.
During “Workforce Worry: A Path Forward for Reform,” Craig Regelbrugge, Senior VP of AmericanHort and Co-Chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, said effective solutions are needed on a national level to address a growing shortfall in agricultural labor. Emphasizing the importance of political engagement, Regelbrugge encouraged FFVA members to be active advocates for agricultural immigration reform.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried gave a “State of the Industry” presentation at the final luncheon. “I am humbled and blessed to fight for the issues that are impacting you every single day,” she said. “I want to make sure that we are competitive in our markets today and for generations to come.”
As keynote speaker, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux detailed the Sunshine State’s remarkable rise to prominence by telling stories from “Florida Made: The 25 Most Important Figures Who Shaped the State,” a book co-authored with journalist Laura Mize. The crowd of mostly native Floridians definitely appreciated the focus of his presentation.
Although many of the individuals highlighted in LeMieux’s book are well-known, others are little known even to lifelong Floridians. One example is Douglas Dummett (No. 12), the father of Indian River citrus, who saved the state’s orange industry after a devastating 56-hour freeze in 1835. “His groves were on Merritt Island, and the surrounding warm water protected his trees,” said LeMieux. “Afterward, his root stock and grafting techniques were sent throughout Florida and citrus production was able to continue.”
During the convention, FFVA recognized several leading individuals and organizations. The Karen and Mike Stuart Humanitarian Award was given to the Light House Cafe and Ella’s Closet in Belle Glade. The Legislator of the Year awards went to state Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka) and state Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Alachua). Dr. Richard Raid, Professor of Plant Pathology with the University of Florida’s Everglades Research & Education Center, was recognized as Researcher of the Year. John Alexander of Walmart received the Customer of the Year honor.
We’re already looking forward to our next convention, which will take place Sept. 28-30, 2020, at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. Mark your calendars, and we’ll see you there.