— FFVA’s annual spring tradition was a big success, and we do mean big. An unusually large group of regulators took part in the annual Florida Spring Regulatory Tour in March. The 40 participants were from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and at the state level, from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. They toured South Florida farming operations and other facilities that are directly affected by those regulators’ decisions.
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.
It gives those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety and the ag workforce the opportunity to see production practices firsthand. The five-day event covers a wide variety of Florida crops, including citrus, vegetables, sugar cane, sod and ornamental plants.
Over the course of five days, the group crossed South Florida from Fort Myers to Belle Glade and back.
The itinerary is designed to give participants a look at a broad range of production practices and challenges faced by South Florida producers. Several said the trip was eye-opening.
“It helped me understand the perspectives and issues relative to the private sector in more depth,” one 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 the farm production environment (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.”
The tour opened with an overview and history of water regulation in South Florida. “I learned a lot about the history of water in Florida,” said one participant in a follow-up survey. “I loved that the speakers were honest and didn’t put the blame on others. It’s evident they are passionate about what they do,” the participant said.
After the water presentation, the tour visited Old Collier Golf Course in Fort Myers. Tim Hiers talked about how the course is an Audubon International Certified Signature Sanctuary and the organization’s efforts to properly manage water use, conservation, land management, landscape design and turfgrass in ways that complement the natural environment.
Day 2 began with a tour of ornamental production with Syngenta Flowers, Inc. Ken Evans covered soil practices the company engages in including amending the soil for pH stability and drip application of soil fumigants.
The group next visited Wonderful Bees, one of the larger beekeeping businesses in the United States, which provides more than 20,000 bee hives for pollination of fruits and nuts, including the brand Wonderful Almonds. Dave Mendes gave participants an up-close look at hives and shared with them the investments the company makes in research and development to learn how to better care for and protect the bees.
At Lipman Produce in Lee County, Wes Roan showed the group the challenges of sandland vegetable production. Lipman is the largest field tomato producer in North America and grows a selection of other produce such as peppers, cucumbers, squash and potatoes; sliced and diced vegetables; watermelons and more.
“Enjoyed talking with such knowledgeable industry experts across so many disciplines of ag. Also, just getting down and walking the farms to see how the land, water and crops interact. It was a priceless experience for me.” – Regulatory Tour participant
Day 3 kicked off early with a trip to Southern Gardens Citrus in Clewiston, where President Rick Kress explained the devastating consequences of citrus greening disease and other challenges of citrus production. “They face a lot of challenges. I did not expect that citrus trees are so vulnerable to diseases until I saw acres and acres of ‘sick’ citrus trees,” said one participant.
The afternoon was spent touring sugar cane production with the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals Corp. in Belle Glade. Jim Shine explained how the cooperative works, and how cane is grown, harvested and processed. Following the sugar tour, the group visited King Ranch in Belle Glade to hear from Paul Grose about turfgrass production. The day concluded with dinner at the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center.
The following day, the group toured muck vegetable production at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, a full-service grower, packer, shipper, marketer, importer and exporter of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. Participants were treated to fresh-from-the-field veggies and learned about the challenges of vegetable production from Perry Yance. “This was a fascinating stop. Seeing the muck soil up close and personal, along with watching the various crews at work was a priceless experience. It was good to see three different crops; lettuce, radish, celery,” said one participant. Another said she appreciated seeing Duda’s system used for retaining runoff on its property while controlling flooding.
The day wrapped up with Alex Salazar of American Farms in Naples, where the group learned about production of flowering perennials and annuals in greenhouses, shade houses and full sun.
The final day of the tour featured a visit to the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Lehigh Acres, where participants learned about its spray program from Wayne Gale.
Several of the participants remarked on the variety and depth of the presentations.
“Enjoyed talking with such knowledgeable industry experts across so many disciplines of ag. Also, just getting down and walking the farms to see how the land, water and crops interact. It was a priceless experience for me,” said one.
Other comments included:
“There is so much in the tour, plus meeting others from different states and agencies, that I think most anyone would find it beneficial.”
“This tour gives me a better understanding of the real world challenges these producers face to provide quality products and services to the people of Florida and other parts of the country. I believe if government would get out of the way, a lot of the problems they face would be solved by their own companies.”
“Seeing, touching, smelling, tasting Florida crops in the field – growers had great stories to tell.”
And finally, “Thank you, FFVA, for giving me a chance to get muck dirt under my nails, celery fresh from the field, lessons in how tomatoes and potatoes grow and for broadening my understanding of issues we can all be working together to resolve.”