Farm tour gives regulators a new perspective

An annual rite of spring for FFVA is its Spring Regulatory Tour for representatives of federal and state agencies that regulate 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.

This year’s five-day trip in March 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.

Attendees included representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Many of the participants had never been on a Florida farm.

Water and weather

Wes Roan of Lipman Produce explains irrigation techniques.

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 for 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 were asked whether their impression of the regulatory environment faced by producers in Florida changed as a result of the tour.

“Yes. [I have a] better understanding of all of the challenges (weather, pest pressure, application timing, etc.) that farmers face and the precision technologies in use for irrigation, etc.,” one regulator said. “I realized the most farmers are not spraying pesticides willy-nilly. There are a lot of considerations that come into play when deciding whether to spray and what tool/strategy would work best.”

Seeing things differently

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,” another 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

Jim Snively of Southern Gardens Citrus showed the goupr the effects of citrus greening disease on trees and fruit.

In addition to water, citrus greening and its dire toll on the 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 grim 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. “It’s truly difficult to pick just one experience on this trip to rate as ‘the best,’ but if pushed to do so, this one might be it.”

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 these tours since the mid-1980s. Other participating sponsors are the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association and Florida Farm Bureau.

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