Introducing FFVA’s newest emerging leaders

– Networking, learning and growing with the FFVA Emerging Leader Development Program

– “The networking opportunity and potential with other emerging leaders and making those connections with others in the ag industry near and far are worth it in itself.” That’s how Matt Griffin feels about being part of Class 4 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program.

The program, launched in 2011, aims to develop promising individuals’ leadership capabilities to prepare them to be agriculture industry standouts. It helps them gain a depth of knowledge on the many issues facing the industry.

The yearlong program includes meetings and seminars with FFVA members and staff; encounters with legislators in Tallahassee; and tours to study environmental issues, production challenges and more. The year begins with the introduction of the class at FFVA’s annual convention, includes a trip to view California farms and packinghouses, and concludes with graduation at the following convention.

Members of Class 4 are:

John Alderman, Duda Farm Fresh Foods

John Beuttenmuller, Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc.

Dan Bott, Premier Citrus Management

Nathan Decker, Monsanto

Matt Griffin, Lipman Produce

Dustin Grooms, Fancy Farms Inc.

Teddy McAvoy, SynTech Research Inc.

Paul Miller, Pioneer Growers Co-op

Meghan Pasken, Glades Crop Care

Shine Taylor, DuPont Crop Protection

Matt Griffin

I grew up right outside of Orlando — in Groveland, in beautiful Lake County. My decision to pursue agriculture as a career really stems from my involvement in FFA and 4-H during high school. The experiences and mentors I had really shaped my outlook on ag and the role it plays in our daily lives.

I started my college career in Tallahassee at Florida A&M University. Spending two years there, I started studying ag business/economics. I later transferred to the University of Florida my junior year and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics.

I work for Lipman Produce. I’m the assistant farm manager for Lipman’s Farm Operation #2 in Estero. I’ve been with the company for a year and a half and in my current capacity for the last year.

I became interested in the Emerging Leader Development Program after I had the opportunity to meet a few of the past graduates. There are some common themes that I think come from this program. The networking opportunity and potential with other emerging leaders and making those connections with others in the ag industry near and far are worth it in itself.  I believe this program will also allow me to gain a better understanding of the social, political and economic impacts that affect the industry. I’m certainly excited about this program and the experiences that will come from it.

Meghan Pasken

Unlike some of the people who have participated in the Emerging Leader Development Program, I did not come from a farming family. But I spent a lot of time working on horse farms when I was a kid.  I took horseback riding lessons, participated in 4-H, and showed horses at the county fairs. I also worked for a large animal veterinarian when I was in high school and fell in love with the science aspect of my job and the sense of community among ag professionals. Because of my love of the outdoors and science, I took a student job with the University of Georgia’s Agricultural Entomology Department the summer after my sophomore year of college. I greatly enjoyed the nature of the work I did with row crops and knew that I wanted to be a part of this vital industry.

I grew up all across the Southeast. I was born in Sanford, but also lived in Lexington, Ky., and Conyers, Ga.  I lived in Athens, Ga, while I was in college, then I moved to Jupiter to begin my career as a crop consultant with Glades Crop Care.  My last move was to Palm City, where my husband and I call home.

I am most interested in learning more about what challenges the Florida farmers I serve are facing. I also am looking forward to networking with other professionals (outside of my field of consulting) to gain a better perspective of the specialty crops community as a whole.

Dustin Grooms

I come from an agriculture background — I was born in Plant City and grew up on a strawberry farm. When I was 17, I joined the Army and stayed for 8 1/2 years. I joined to be a motor transportation specialist and later became a drill sergeant. I took some college in the military but never enough to finish. I’m a farm manager at Fancy Farms, which is my father’s farm. I am basically another set of eyes and ears for my dad.

I’m looking forward to participating in the program because of many positive things it offers. But I am most interested in the networking side of the program. It’s important to know people and work with others in the industry to face the challenges of the future. Those include the price or market, which is dictated by the chain stores. Labor is also always on every farmer’s mind. Another challenge is finding an alternative to methyl bromide, a soil fumigant that the government took away. Plus, water will be a major problem in the future. We have already had to put meters on our wells, and now they are putting solar-powered panels on them to get the data.

John Beuttenmuller

I decided to pursue a career in agriculture as a result of a job that I had in the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station while I was an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. I chose a career in agriculture because it provides me with the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest producers, marketers and plant breeders in the world. No two crops or seasons are ever the same, and perseverance and innovation are the two constants.

I grew up in West Palm Beach and majored in finance at the University of Florida. I am the executive director of Florida Foundation Seed Producers, Inc.

What mainly interested me in the Emerging Leader Development Program was the broad exposure to such a wide variety of educational events that are extremely relevant to the future of agriculture. You have to continue to learn and develop if you’re going to take on challenges such as labor, water and increased urbanization. Labor and water resources are critical to agriculture. Many agricultural operations are labor intensive, and the lack of a stable and reliable labor force puts producers in a very risky and uncertain position. Any immigration reform needs to include meaningful reform of guest-worker programs.  Water is becoming an increasingly finite resource, and increased regulations that are not based on sound science could have serious economic consequences. Urbanization has increased the competition for many of the resources that are important to agriculture, such as water, land, and labor. Those living in urban areas seem to be increasingly disconnected from those who produce the food that they eat. This disconnect presents a big challenge, but a growing world presents a big opportunity for agriculture, especially specialty crop agriculture.

Nathan Decker

I owe my mother all the credit for my career in agriculture. I did not come from a farming family.  In fact, totally the opposite; I grew up 12 miles south of Pittsburgh. My father spent his whole career with the YMCA. For 36 years he worked for the Y starting as a tennis instructor and finishing as a director for various Pittsburgh-area YMCAs. My mother was, and still is, a registered nurse at a downtown area hospital in Pittsburgh.

My path toward agriculture all started with cutting my neighbor’s lawn when I was in my teens for some extra cash in the summer. I had a nice little lawn business going where I made good money for a teenager. However, I started to enjoy my sleep more and cutting lawns took a back seat. I still worked, but only as my new sleep/social schedule permitted. My mother was not happy with this. She felt I was getting lazy and didn’t know what real work was like and told me I needed to get a real job.

The summer between my junior and senior year I got a job at the local mall selling hats at a store called Lids. I worked there for three months or so standing on my feet all day, making a little over minimum wage, and right away I knew working indoors was not a place for me.

When I was looking at colleges I focused on colleges that had an agricultural program. I figured with an agricultural major I would land a job where outside work would be involved. I decided on the Pennsylvania State University, and since I thought I was good at cutting grass my original major was turf grass management. About halfway through my sophomore year I decided to switch to agricultural systems management, a combination of ag engineering and business. While taking classes for my new major I met a fellow student from my area in Pennsylvania whose family owned a 300-acre vegetable farm. We developed a friendship and before long I was working summers learning about vegetables and farm management at his family’s operation.

During my junior year of college, I was offered an internship from Growmark.  I chose Growmark because they owned another company called SeedWay LLC, which was based out of Central Pennsylvania and was strictly a vegetable seed company.  After my internship and my senior year of college I was offered a job working full-time at SeedWay. Since graduation my passion for agriculture has only grown, and I have devoted my career to the specialty crop industry from the start. Now I work with one of the world leaders in the agriculture industry, Monsanto. Agriculture is such a fun and fulfilling line of work.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Growers today not only have to worry about making a good crop but they sometimes do not have the labor to properly maintain and pick their crop. Another major challenge growers are facing is the rising cost of production. All inputs from fertilizer to seed to fuel have increased significantly over the last five to 10 years, but the price a grower is getting for a box of produce has always been market price. I would have never thought I would see a grower produce a crop only to walk away from the field because he will actually save money by not picking it. But it happens. This is because the market price is lower than the growers cost to pick, pack and ship the final product. If growers are going to take the risk and produce a crop, I feel they need to have some assurances they are going to get a fair market price for their produce.

John Alderman

I was born and raised in Pahokee in the Everglades area.  My grandfather had a grove in Indiantown for many years. My dad also purchased a grove in St Lucie County in 2001. We’ve also had cane and cattle over the years.

I attended the University of Florida as a business major with a minor in food and resource economics. Today I’m a senior account manager with Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.

What interests me most about the program is the exposure to different aspects of Florida agriculture. Duda is as a diverse an ag business as you’ll see, so that enables me to have exposure to so many aspects of the industry. But there is still so much to the business that I don’t see. The strawberry, blueberry and dry vegetable businesses come to mind that I’m excited to learn about.

As far as industry issues we’ll have to face in the future, labor is the number one challenge we face as an industry. Without a labor pool we have no future.”

Shine Taylor

I grew up in Tifton, Ga., on Lewis Taylor Farms, which was named after my grandfather. My family no longer owns the farm but we still rent out land around the family house and my family still owns a timber farm in Worth County, Ga.

I started working during high school in a cotton entomology lab at the University of Georgia Coastal Plains Experiment Station. After high school, I enrolled in the University of Georgia where I earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture and a master of science degree in entomology.  I then received my doctorate in entomology from the University of Florida. Some of my research included developing thresholds for Spodoptera exigua, beet armyworm in tomato and examining the spatial relationships of Bemisia tabaci, silverleaf whitefly and tomato yellow leaf curl virus. After graduating from the University of Florida, I began working as a field development representative with DuPont Crop Protection, where I coordinate research trials in Florida and Puerto Rico and provide technical sales support to the sales team, growers, county extension agents, etc.

I have been involved in agriculture my entire working career, and since I grew up around agriculture and had roots in agriculture, I guess it was a natural fit for me. I always enjoyed the sciences as a kid, so I merged the research and agriculture and made it a career. As a development rep, I get to work on the research side of agriculture but am always thinking about the application of the technology in the field. One of my personal goals is to strive to find new and more efficient ways to help growers achieve their best out of their crops. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to work in many different cropping systems, but I have always been focused on one part the agriculture equation: pest management/production.

After hearing some of the discussions at the FFVA convention in September around product registration and legislation, labor issues and production, the ELDP program has me excited about the experiences I will receive. It seems issues that water, labor and food safety will continue to be some of greatest hurdles in the success of agriculture in the future. I’m excited about the ELDP program and the knowledge I will gain from it.

Paul Miller

My family plants sugarcane and harvests sweet corn and onions. I was born in Pahokee, and I grew up in Wellington and Belle Glade.

I went to Santa Fe Community College and graduated from the University of Florida. My major was in food science and human nutrition. I’m in sales now with Pioneer Growers Co-op in Belle Glade.

I decided to apply for the Emerging Leader Development Program because I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the agriculture industry and improve my leadership skills.

I know there are a lot of issues facing the agriculture industry, but three major ones in no particular order would be labor issues – having people readily available to help harvest the amount of volume grown; environmental issues ranging from water issues to climate change; and land issues – having enough land to grow the necessary volume needed to feed the world.

Daniel Bott

I grew up in the Vero Beach area surrounded by citrus groves and became interested in agriculture in high school. After two years at Florida Southern College, I switched majors from business to horticulture science with a production concentration. During that time I interned with a citrus caretaking company as well as Bayer CropScience. After college, I took a sales job with UAP selling chemicals and fertilizer to the golf, nursery, home lawn, sod, and citrus markets on the east coast.

Today I am production manager for Premier Citrus Management in St. Lucie County. I’m happy to be part of the ELDP because it promises quality leadership training and industry networking.

Looking into the future, I’m mostly concerned with maintaining the viability of commercial Florida citrus production in the face of HLB (citrus greening), hoping for an available therapy and resistant rootstalks and varieties in the future.

To learn more about the Emerging Leader Development Program and follow along with the year’s events, visit the ELDP website.  Be sure to check back for updates.

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