— Thankful for opportunities and God’s grace
Alan Jones’ father, David, had a plan for the future. He started farming with his brother Harold in the North Florida community of Hastings in the 1950s. As time passed, through good planning and hard work the two were able to provide opportunities for their children.
“Dad and his brother farmed together until 1985, when they divided up the property between members of the younger generation,” Jones said. “Dad and I came south to Parrish, and my brother Richard and cousins Mark and Gregg went their own ways. We were all given enough rope to either hang ourselves or swing to the other side. Fortunately, all of us are successful one way or another in the farming industry,” he said.
Jones bought his father’s share of the Parrish operation in 1992 and greatly increased the size of the farm. Today, he owns almost 4,000 acres in Southwest Florida on which he grows potatoes and green beans. Jones also owns citrus land in various locations from Hendry to Hillsborough counties. “I’m really happy and thankful for opportunities and God’s grace,” he said.
Jones Potato Farm is somewhat unusual in that it grows both potatoes for chipping and table stock. It’s one of the few farms in the state that grows both, Jones said. The company sells chipping potatoes to Frito Lay, Lance, Golden Flake and other well-known companies. It sells table stock to supermarket chains through various brokers.
Jones takes particular pride in the hard work his team has done to conserve irrigation water. “Potatoes, historically, have been grown using seepage irrigation,” Jones said. “In other parts of the country they tend to be grown with center-pivot irrigation. Farming operations in Florida had not used a center-pivot program. I put my first pivot in and saw a tremendous amount of water savings just halfway through the first season.”
Jones presented his results to the Southwest Florida Management District and helped facilitate a FARMS program, a cost-share program for agricultural projects that benefit the environment.
“We proceeded to put pivots on 1,200 acres of land, which allowed us to conserve close to 60 percent of our historical water usage,” he said. “It really got a lot of people’s attention. Not only did we save water, but we also eliminated runoff due to irrigation. There are so many good things that have come out of it.”
Jones’ work with overhead irrigation helped the water district partner with the University of Florida to fund a program — now in its third year — that helps determine the amount of water necessary to grow a particular crop and develop Best Management Practices, which are available to other growers.
Jones works with the communities where he farms to help develop plans that emphasize flexibility and property rights. “We try to be proactive with the local politics and regulatory agencies to make sure that our land rights are protected, so if we want to farm, we can farm. And if the time comes to develop, we’re not located in designated green areas, so we can develop if need be. We’re working with county officials to protect land rights and work with them on a proactive basis to have a successful community,” he said.
In addition to his individual efforts to protect the future of his and other farming operations, Jones believes in being involved with groups such as FFVA and the Florida Farm Bureau. “We’re out here tending our crops and harvesting our fields and don’t necessarily have time to get into politics as much as we should. We’re very thankful for the job these organizations do to protect our rights,” he said.
Jones has good reason to look toward the future. He and his wife, Leslie, have three children: Madeline, 17; Harrison, 14; and Carson, 12. Although Madeline is thinking about a career in medicine, he wouldn’t mind if the others explore opportunities in agriculture.
“I don’t know if they’ll be involved in agriculture,” he said. “I will provide opportunities, as my father provided for me. But if they take them, that’s their decision, not mine. I see a lot of opportunities in ag for young people.”