FFVA 2014 – Annual convention draws crowds

FFVA 2014 brought in hundreds producers, shippers and allied trade industry partners to Naples in September to network, do business and discuss the issues of the day. Attendance at the annual convention continues to climb, with almost 400 registered participants this year.

Putnam details challenges, successes

Water, school nutrition, research, and defending agriculture were key topics of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s “State of the Industry” address that kicked off the convention.

Putnam announced that FFVA has joined the Fresh From Florida program, which markets Florida’s agricultural products. Through the association’s membership in the program, all FFVA producer members have access to numerous tools in the program to help market their products.

The commissioner discussed the success of the Farm to School Program, which puts fresh Florida produce on school lunch plates, and emphasized his oft-repeated theme that water is the state’s biggest issue. He also pointed to several key battles against plant pests and diseases, including giant African land snails and citrus greening.

Water issues continue to grow

“Water and the 2014 Election: What’s Ahead for Agriculture,” featured Terry Cole of the law firm Gunster as  moderator with panelists David Childs of the law firm of Hopping, Green & Sams; Ryan Tyson, vice president of political operations at Associated Industries of Florida, and Rich Budell from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Agricultural Water Policy.

Panelists emphasized that the agriculture industry needs to continue to pay close attention to water issues for the foreseeable future. In particular, the next two years may have a significant impact on water resource policy for the next 10 or more years as the state grapples with both water quantity and quality issues. Tyson shared research on Florida voter demographics and key fall races.

Halperin previews presidential race

Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Halperin led attendees on a tour through the tangled web of presidential politics at the Cracker Breakfast. The veteran journalist gave his take on the Obama presidency and the 2016 election.

On Obama, Halperin said, “He’s not a guy who loves this job.” He’s thinking about his legacy because all of his major accomplishments came during his first term, he said, and all were accomplished with only Democratic votes or almost exclusively Democratic votes. Halperin said Obama hasn’t changed the culture of Washington as he wanted; in fact, he said, “This president is more polarizing than his two predecessors.”

However, Obama is a great politician when he focuses, he pointed out. “My sense is that he does just enough of what he wants to do to get things done. That’s kept him from building the coalitions you need to make major change.”

On the upcoming presidential election, Halperin said the Republican Party has no frontrunner. The top five “establishment” candidates he cited were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

Halperin said Bush is the one “everyone’s waiting for. He’s an extraordinary guy. He was a unifying figure in this state, and he’s an incredibly talented policy person. He was a serious, strong governor. But he’s out of practice, and his family doesn’t seem interested in his running.

“I think Gov. (Mitt) Romney will run if these guys don’t, but can he beat Hillary Clinton?” he asked. “My colleagues are all sure she will run. I’m not sure she will. I want to wait until after her grandchild is born… Is she really the right person to bring the country together? If she does run, she’s formidable,” he said, “I think she’ll clear the field.”

Thinking about ‘the ultimate customer’

Rich Dachman of Sysco and retired Kroger executive Reggie Griffin discussed consumer trends in the food service and retail sides of the business during “Fresh Perspectives and Trends for Produce.” Both asserted that consumer trends start in restaurants and eventually make their way to shopping habits.

Top restaurant trends, Dachman said, include locally grown produce, sustainability, healthy options in kids’ meals, and a wider offering of healthy meals. These trends work to the growers’ advantage, he said: “If local produce can get people eating more produce, they’re going to eat your produce, too.”

Dachman said the industry must be united in its approach to marketing the nutritional and health value of produce. “I see in our industry too many times products competing with products. Our competition is not our ourselves – it’s the snack aisle.”

Navigating the maze of health care reform

So many changes and delays in the Affordable Care Act have occurred that attorney Sheldon Blumling of Fisher Phillips starts his presentations with, “Where do we stand now?” Blumling kicked off the Issues Forum “Navigating the Maze of Health Care Reform.”

Employers are about three months out from new obligations under the Affordable Care Act, Blumling said. There could be more delays, although he predicted that “it all will come to pass in 2015. I don’t see an across-the-board reprieve. It’s going to happen.”

Blumling highlighted changes that are important for growers: The seasonal employee definition has been limited to positions for which the customary annual employment is six month or less. In addition, the maximum “break in service” period has been reduced from 26 to 13 weeks. He noted that the IRS specifically declined to create exceptions for workers in the H-2A program.

Angie Vitale, vice president of human resources at BB&T-J. Rolfe Davis, discussed the definition of minimum essential coverage, and what will offer the best benefit for both the employer and employee. She also touched on the two key penalties dictated by the rules. Minimum essential coverage (MEC) is not clearly defined, because it’s new, Vitale said. It’s not traditional health coverage, but rather a very minimal policy. This new level of plan is being offered by some companies that are seeking to avoid penalties. The so-called MEC plans are growing in popularity, said Andrew Fox, employee benefits consultant at BB&T – J. Rolfe Davis. Fox provided an overview of trends in the marketplace nationally, within the Florida, and in the agriculture industry.

FFVA honors lawmakers, merchandiser, researcher

FFVA gave out its annual awards to deserving individuals on the final day of the convention. Legislators of the Year awards were given to Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Jake Raburn. Dr. Lukasz Stelinski of the University of Florida was honored with the Researcher of the Year award. The Merchandiser of the Year honors went to Winn-Dixie.

At the awards luncheon, everyone also enjoyed music by a children’s choir from the Redlands Christian Migrant Association programs, a graduation ceremony for the Emerging Leader Development Program Class 3 and the introduction of Class 4.

A special convention moment

At the closing party, FFVA President Mike Stuart accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in honor of former FFVA Chairman Frank Johns, who passed away earlier this year of ALS. The challenge raised $1,485 to fight the disease.

Stuart was challenged by Dr. Nick Place, dean of extension at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Stuart in turn challenged FFVA’s Keith Mixon, Alan Temple and Danny Johns.

View the video of the challenge here.

Golf and fishing rounds out the event

The annual Florida Specialty Crop Foundation Benefit Golf Tournament and the fishing excursion rounded out FFVA 2014 at week’s end. Winning golfers were Dan Bott, Shine Taylor, T.J. Swaford and Chuck Cruse.

We hope you join us Sept. 23-25, 2015, in Palm Beach.

 

View media coverage of FFVA 2014 through the links below

 

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