(Sept. 5) Florida grower-shippers plan to tackle numerous challenges facing the industry — among those immigration reform — at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s 63rd annual convention Sept. 17-19 in Naples, Fla.

The conference also will feature educational programs packed with discussions on issues that include the new farm bill and rebranding promotional efforts to boost fruit and vegetable consumption.

“The industry is at an interesting juncture,” said Mike Stuart, the Maitland-based association’s president. “It’s one of those classic challenges and opportunities situations. It’s an important moment for our industry.”

While stalled immigration reform in Washington, D.C., will likely jeopardize labor supply, Florida’s produce leaders are poised to significantly benefit from a potentially reformulated farm bill that includes produce as well as the reconfigured 5 a Day program, Stuart said.

5 A DAY: MORE MATTERS

Ron McCormick, vice president of produce and floral for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., and Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, will lead a Sept. 19 session on building a new produce brand by understanding the produce customer.

The program will focus on the consumer research used by the foundation to rebrand its 5 a Day program to “Fruit & Veggies: More Matters.”

Wal-Mart’s participation demonstrates the importance of the buy-in of the More Matters program by major retailers, Stuart said.

For outgoing chairman Tony DiMare, vice president of DiMare Ruskin Inc., Ruskin, Fla., time has gone quickly with no shortage of work during the two years he has headed the association, he said.

“There have been a lot of issues to address from the farm bill to the country-of-origin issue, which is still lingering out there along with labor issues,” he said.

He also listed the supply and quality of water as well as the effect of development upon Florida farm land as other critical issues.

Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, Washington D.C., will head a discussion on immigration issues that will explore how reform could ease Florida’s labor shortages. John Stickles, a Hillsborough County, Fla., strawberry grower will share his experiences using the H-2A worker program.

With next year’s expiration of the farm bill, another panel will have Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., and Karen Williams, an aide to Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., and Stuart talking about the opportunities a new farm bill could present for produce.

The discussion will present some of the different projects FFVA has been working on and provide a political “lay of the land” where the farm bill may be headed, Stuart said.

Drew Duda, the former vice president in charge of Florida vegetable operations for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Oviedo, Fla., who now heads Duda’s products division, and his wife Lisa Duda, will serve as the convention’s chairman and chairwoman.

ALSO:

  • Business author and consultant Joe Calloway, the convention’s keynote speaker, will provide attendees a de-commoditization message on how they can differentiate themselves from their competitors;


  • Association vice chairman Jay Taylor, president of Taylor & Fulton Inc., Palmetto, Fla., is expected to become the group’s new chairman after voting by the FFVA’s nominating committee Sept. 18, Stuart said;


  • This year’s meetings return to the Naples Ritz-Carlton, where the convention takes place every other year. The Ritz has been consistently ranked as one of the world’s top resort hotels;


  • Last year’s convention was in Orlando, Fla. For 2007, the association will move to Boca Raton, Fla.
FFVA meeting to survey challenges, opportunities
Drew Duda and wife Lisa Duda are chairman and chairwoman of this year’s Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention.