FFVA 2016: Networking, information and relaxation

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam shared his insights at FFVA 2016.

FFVA’s 73rd annual convention, which wrapped up recently in Naples, was marked by strong attendance, relevant issues forums and plenty of opportunities to network. The event is designed to give attendees and experience that is informative, relaxing, worth their time and keeps them engaged with FFVA.

Here are some highlights:

One reason participation at FFVA’s convention has increased by 40 percent in the past few years is FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, said FFVA President Mike Stuart during the opening luncheon. “The ELDP has brought new life to the organization,” he said. Sonia Tighe, director of the ELDP program, introduced members of Class 6, who are just beginning their yearlong adventure and praised Class 5, whose members graduated at the luncheon.

Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, gave the luncheon keynote address on emerging industry trends. He touched on the “ugly fruit” movement and explored the intersection of technology, investment capital and agriculture.

The conversation about genetically modified organisms was the topic at one of three issues forums.

The first issues forum, “Discussing GMOs: A Marathon, Not a Sprint,” featured Kavin Senapathy, a nationally recognized science communicator who tackles myths related to health and food. Senapathy, who blogs and posts regularly on Twitter (@ksenapathy), said Florida agricultural producers can play an important role in the ongoing conversation about GMOs.  “Right now, you may not need biotech solutions for most crops, but now is the time to set the foundation,” she said. “You have to let the public know about the challenges you face and provide them with accurate information.”

The second day of the convention began early at the annual Cracker Breakfast. Mike Allen, co-founder of POLITICO and former author of “Playbook,” a daily email political briefing, served as keynote speaker. Allen said that regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, Donald Trump has permanently changed the campaign process. “People are used to politicians presenting white papers and facts. Trump speaks to them in plain English, and others will copy him in the future,” Allen said.

In “Election 2016: Where Do We Go from Here?” two speakers covered political issues related to the business of agriculture. Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, stressed that successful advocates make their positions simple, actionable and important to others. State Rep. Katie Edwards, (D-Broward), explained the pros and cons of constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot. On the federal level, Quarles said, the election results could affect agricultural interests in workforce, nutrition programs and trade. He noted that the disappearance of moderates in Congress and the fractures within the Republican majority in the House and Senate make it difficult to advance legislation.

Class 5 of FFVA's Emerging Leader Development Program graduated at FFVA 2016.

The final issues forum, “Global Markets: A Produce Perspective,” featured three panelists discussing investments in Florida’s ports, Cuba’s agrarian problems and international trade policies that are creating new risks for the state’s specialty crops sector.

Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development for Port Tampa Bay, said the opening of the wider Panama Canal this summer was a “milestone” in seaborne transportation.

Bill Messina, research and development manager with University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said that while Cuba has a well-educated workforce, there is a shortage of labor to work in the fields, especially since wages are so low.  That shortage of cash, he said, is an issue for Florida growers considering exporting to Cuba – one of the few exemptions allowed in the continuing U.S. embargo. Elliott said he plans to conduct field research on a wood-boring insect, and provide pest control training. Right now, the risk of a pest moving from Cuba to Florida is small, he said, because U.S. law does not allow two-way trade between the nations.

But the risk of virulent disease outbreak is growing as pressure mounts to relax current federal cold-treatment and fumigation regulations, said Dan Richey, president and CEO of Riverfront Packing and an FFVA board member. “I am adamantly opposed to a change, because it puts Florida agriculture at risk.  We must do all we can to prevent the arrival of pests from other tropical regions.”

Dr. Jim Graham (left) receives the Researcher of the Year Award from FFVA board member Rick Kress.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam served as guest speaker for the annual Awards Luncheon. “We are a $100 billion economic driver for Florida that cannot be replaced. While we face numerous risks every day, the biggest threat is still poorly thought-out government policies that prevent Florida farmers and ranchers from feeding a hungry world,” he said, noting that Republicans and Democrats must find a way to work together. “Otherwise, we can expect more agency regulations and over-zealous executive action,” he said.

FFVA presented its annual Legislator of the Year Awards to Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, and Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. Customer of the Year (formerly Merchandiser of the Year) went to IPC Subway and the Researcher of the Year Award went to University of Florida’s Dr. Jim Graham for his work in the fight against citrus disease.

Politico's Mike Allen talked politics at FFVA 2016's traditional "Cracker Breakfast."

Other highlights of the convention included the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation’s Annual Benefit Auction, the closing banquet, the Foundation’s benefit golf tournament and a fishing outing on the final morning.

The silent and live auctions raised $21,775, which will go to the Foundation to benefit the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, the Emerging Leader Development Program and other efforts.

New leaders also were announced at the convention. FFVA’s 2016-2017 chairman is Paul Orsenigo, Orsenigo Farms; and Paul Allen of R.C. Hatton will serve as vice chairman. Outgoing Chairman Alan Temple was acknowledged for his service.

FFVA appreciates all who made FFVA 2016 possible, including sponsors of all levels, those who participated in the silent and live auctions, and the attendees. Without this critical support, it would not be possible to present this quality event to the Florida specialty crop industry.

FFVA 2017 will head north, taking place Sept. 25-27, 2017, at The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island.

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