By Candace Lease, AgriPOWER Class IX participant
When our AgriPOWER leadership class touched down in sunny Orlando, ready for session six of our program, and set to catch a glimpse of what agriculture looks like in Florida, our ride for the week was a large black bus with one word printed across the side: Dynamic. While the sarcastic jokes poured out of our group about the dynamic trip ahead, the bus company proved fortuitous to agriculture in the state of Florida, as the various struggles that these producers are facing have caused many to get creative to keep profiting in an industry for which they are passionate.
Many of the problems facing production agriculture in Florida do not feel different than the issues we face here in our state. Discussions of water quality management, plant diseases, labor issues, trade concerns and difficulty in changing markets sounded familiar. The surprising struggles we learned of on several farms included citrus greening, a bacterial infection inflicting the citrus trees in the state and destroying the crop, as well as a completely different take on trade agreements. While NAFTA has been very advantageous to most Ohio farmers, the fruit and vegetable producers we had the opportunity to visit had strong negative feelings toward the agreement, which was surprising to our group.
With these challenging situations, many of the farms we visited are making dynamic decisions to keep their operations strong. From growing ferns and foliage instead of citrus, to producers managing cooperatives to increase their buying and selling power, to finding niche markets like raising sturgeon fish (and caviar!) and networking with local chefs around those products. We also visited multiple farms that offered u-pick and agritourism aspects to provide entertainment for locals and keep income steady. The ranch we visited talked about utilizing groundwater, keeping up wetlands across the operation, retention ponds and other practices implemented to maintain water and not strain the environment.
It would be wrong to not give a little love to the farm families we met with on our trip. Thanks go out to David Register and the Fern Trust Cooperative, the Crump family of Vo-LaSalle Farms citrus and u-pick fruits and vegetables, the Hunt family with its blueberry cooperative and agritourism, the Evans family’s fish farm, Wish Farms and their berry processing unit, the Grooms family and their strawberry farm and all the folks at Deseret Ranch. It was a trip that was a ton of fun and very informative, making it three dynamic days.