John Long knows potatoes. Born and raised on the eastern shore of Virginia, Long comes from, well, a long line of farmers, some from Central Florida. A graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in agriculture economics, he farmed with his brother until 1993.
His operation, Agri-Gators, based in Martin County, boasts about 800 acres of potatoes and 500 acres of sweet corn.
“I came down here about 20 years ago to manage the pickle operation,” Long said. “Agri-Gators was formed to extend the Zellwood pickle growing season a bit later into the fall and to have pickles to harvest earlier in the spring. We moved into potatoes and sweet corn later in the 1990s and through the years increased the farm’s acreage to what it is today,” he said.
The latest for Agri-Gators is the construction last year of a 20,000-square-foot cold room and packing facility. “Our entire product is fresh market,” Long said. “Our market is all over the United States and Canada, but mostly we pack and ship to repackers east of the Mississippi River through Southeast Farms, Inc.” The potatoes are shipped under the Agri-Gators brand in bulk bags to the repackers, who then put them in their own consumer-size bags, “which is what you see at Publix,” Long said.
Agri-Gators employs about 25 full-time employees and another 35 during harvest time.
Long says his favorite part of farming is simply producing food for people. “I like packing potatoes and growing sweet corn. It’s very rewarding.”
Also rewarding to Long is spending time with his family, some of whom are well-known in the Florida specialty crop industry including his uncle, Billy Long, a member of the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. He is married to Janet and has four children: Stephanie, Rebekah, Anna and James.
The issues that concern Long and the Agri-Gator operation center on two things. “It’s always a challenge to put together a stable supply of workers,” Long said. “And food safety procedures are extensive even on a product that has a kill step [cooking]. People don’t usually eat potatoes raw,” he said. The company employs a full-time food safety manager to make sure it complies with all regulations.
John Long takes his concerns for the industry seriously and believes in getting involved in decision-making. He is a board member of both the Martin County Farm Bureau and FFVA. He also served for three terms on the Farm Service Agency Martin County Committee.