By Stacey Sark, AgriPOWER Class IX participant
When I think of Florida, I picture sunshine, alligators and orange juice. Blueberries, strawberries, cattle, caviar and ferns were not what popped into my mind but my recent trip with Ohio Farm Bureau to experience farming in Florida has definitely changed that.
No matter where you go in this country, agriculture will have adversity and struggles, and Florida is no stranger to some difficult times. A disease to the citrus plants that began in 2005 creates what they call “greening” and eventually kills the trees. Add that with devastation from Hurricane Irma and you get a reduction of about 33% of your already diminishing citrus product. So what do Floridians do when their strongest industry is hurting? DIVERSIFY! Did you know that Florida is the winter strawberry capital of the world, that it is home to the largest beef ranch in the country or that it is ranked as one of the top fern and landscaping plant producers?
Agriculture in Florida isn’t easy when it seems like there are predators everywhere, and I am not talking about the gators. These producers have created innovative ways to increase profit margins through creative packing, marketing and co-op programs, circumvented eminent domain through their local planning efforts and improved the likelihood of future generations to be a part of their operations through the diversification of their farm. They have increased their value-added products and experiences with the general public. Connecting people with their food and increasing agritourism in the state has provided a better profit than the commercial industry has recently.
Learning about these different industries was a great experience but what I loved the most was that the people we met, even through their struggles, love what they do and love their communities. We are no different in Ohio when it comes to that feeling of being committed to agriculture, to the land, to our families and to our communities. We may have different products and we may have different struggles, but we share a common value in agriculture. I am grateful for the opportunity to see Florida agriculture and its diverse products, but I am more grateful to have experienced it with some of the greatest people in Ohio agriculture with this Ohio Farm Bureau Federation AgriPOWER Class.