Regulators learn about the real world of Florida agriculture

Challenges for Florida specialty crop agriculture were a recurring theme on FFVA’s Spring Regulatory Tour the week of March 18, as 22 representatives from state and federal regulatory agencies spent five days traveling across South Florida. In spite of a rainy start, the group learned at stops from Fort Myers to Belle Glade about water management, production of Florida’s specialty crops, and crop-protection chemicals used to fight plant pests and diseases.

Tour host John Hoffman explains to the group how young citrus trees are protected at Barron Coller/Silver Strand's groves.

Arranged and led each year by Dan Botts, FFVA’s vice president of industry resources, the tour gives regulators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Agriculture and the state’s water management districts a chance to see a variety of crops and production practices firsthand.  For some, it’s the first time visiting a farm, and the participants have the chance to talk extensively with growers about their pest management programs, water use and other topics. By hearing from growers, they are able to better understand how their decisions affect producers’ ability to farm.

“The ability to see the agronomic practices and challenges for a wide variety of commodities makes the [FFVA] tour a valuable experience for participants. In particular, the water management practices that are unique to this area were of great interest,” said participant James Cowles of EPA.

Melanie Biscoe, also of EPA, had this to say: “This tour provided a wealth of information that will allow EPA to make more realistic assumptions when considering potential risks of pesticide use in South Florida, as well as insight on what growers can do and are already doing to address potential concerns.”

The tour kicked off with an overview of Florida water issues and a history of water management in South Florida. Each stop involved a firsthand look at crops, which this year included sugar cane, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, citrus, celery, radishes, turf grass and cut flowers. Hosts for the tour were Duda Farm Fresh Foods, King Ranch, Barron Collier/Silver Strand, Lipman Produce, Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Florida Crystals Corp., Southwest Florida Water Management District, American Farms and Syngenta Flowers. The tour also included the Old Collier Golf Course, where participants heard about the facility’s use of water and chemicals, and the Lee County Mosquito Control District, where they got an overview of the county’s efforts to keep mosquitoes and the disease they carry in check.

“FFVA’s Spring Regulatory Tour offers an excellent opportunity for regulatory personnel to learn about agricultural practices employed by Florida growers. There is no classroom experience that can substitute for the field trips and personal interaction with the experts on the tour,” said Dave Daiker of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The various stops demonstrate the many challenges that growers face with regard to pest management and water management. Overall, the tour is an absolutely first-rate demonstration of Florida agriculture that imparts a wealth of information on participants. I highly recommend the tour to anyone working in a regulatory field related to Florida agriculture.”

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