From chrysanthemums to citrus, bees to bell peppers, and turfgrass to tomatoes, 40 representatives from federal and state regulatory agencies toured South Florida agriculture operations recently during FFVA’s annual Spring Regulatory Tour.
The tour is somewhat of an annual tradition for FFVA, but it’s far from ordinary. It gives those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and the ag workforce an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. For many, it’s the first time they’ve been on a farm. The tour covers a wide variety of Florida crops, including citrus, vegetables, sugar cane, sod, and ornamental plants.
I haven’t met many producers who don’t think that federal and state over-regulation creates far too many challenges to their ability to produce a crop. The regulatory tour is a unique opportunity for growers and regulators to engage in valuable face-to-face time discussing those challenges, offering opinions, and exchanging information.
Start Your Engines
The tour opens with an overview and history of water regulation in South Florida and is topped off with a visit to the Lee County Mosquito Control District for participants to learn about its spray program.
Over the course of five days, the group crosses South Florida from Fort Myers to Belle Glade and back.
At each stop, hosts explain their irrigation practices, pest and disease management programs, research efforts, worker safety policies, and more. The open sessions encourage frank question-and-answer exchanges between growers and regulators. The goal is for tour participants to leave with a keener understanding of the unique challenges of farming in South Florida’s subtropical climate and a better awareness of how the regulatory decisions they make affect Florida’s producers. Growers encourage participants to call on them as resources on water and crop-protection issues.
Several of the participants said the trip was eye-opening.
“It helped me understand the perspectives and issues relative to the private sector in more depth,” one regulator said in a follow-up survey. “Seeing things from the ground level and interacting with the various stakeholders widened my perspective.”
Added another: “My impression of the regulatory environment faced by ag changed. There are so many factors affecting farm production (environmental, political, economics, etc.) and yet they are still able to produce so much and on such a large scale. I have a new appreciation for the industry.”
This year’s group was the largest in several years, with representatives from USDA, FDA, and EPA. At the state level, participants were from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District.
The tour is conducted under the auspices of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation. Dan Botts, FFVA’s vice president of industry resources, has been leading similar tours since the mid-1980s.
Tour stops and their gracious hosts included: Old Collier Golf Course, Fort Myers (Tim Hiers); Syngenta Flowers, Alva (Ken Evans); Wonderful Bees, Fort Myers (Dave Mendes); Lipman Produce, Lee County (Wes Roan); Southern Gardens Citrus, Clewiston (Rick Kress); Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative/Florida Crystals Corp., Belle Glade (Jim Shine); King Ranch, Belle Glade (Paul Grose); Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Belle Glade (Perry Yance); American Farms, Naples (Alex Salazar); and Lee County Mosquito Control, Lehigh Acres (Wayne Gale).
These folks carve out a significant part of their day to be with the group, but clearly they consider it a valuable investment in educating the participants. And if the feedback FFVA got from the tour guests is any indication, that investment will pay off.