NAPLES, Fla. — The Sunshine State’s fruit and vegetable growers heard the latest on food safety developments in Washington, D.C., and the importance of the fall elections.

During the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s convention, Martha Roberts, University of Florida consultant and former deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, went over new Food and Drug Administration food safety regulations and changes to food safety rules.

Florida growers urged to help shape state government

Doug Ohlemeier

Steven Machell (left), sales manager for Gulf Coast Produce Inc., talks with David Bryant, a buyer with Supervalu Inc., and Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, during a Sept. 21 session at the 67th Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention in Naples, Fla.

“At least we’re not talking about a produce outbreak today,” she said during a Sept. 21 session. “The headlines have all been about eggs and the egg recall in Iowa.”

Roberts said the food safety rules the FDA was expected to release by December, have been delayed until sometime in 2011.

“The politics is pushing them not to have this burden on the small producer, but on the other hand, the politics is pushing them to be more tight with enforcement,” she said. “The two conflict with each other.”

Roberts said the industry is involved in monthly meetings headed by the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association to harmonize the many food safety audits and metrics.

To help them craft the rules, Roberts said FDA officials are planning to visit Florida growing and packing operations during what she called a regulatory tour in February or March.

As all of the state’s executive cabinet positions are up for election, Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., who is running for Florida agriculture commissioner, during a Sept. 21 awards luncheon said the upcoming elections offer a chance for Florida agriculture people to help promote agriculture to candidates.

Florida growers urged to help shape state government

Doug Ohlemeier

Jerry Mixon (from left), vice president and farm production manager for SunnyRidge Farm Inc., and Keith Mixon, SunnyRidge president and chief executive officer, talk with Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention Sept. 21 in Naples. Keith Mixon is the 2010-12 FFVA vice chairman.

“All of us can box above our weight class and help shape the future of Florida by impacting the Cabinet and legislative races and bring to bear the appreciation of the economic impact of the jobs that agriculture in Florida creates and retains,” he said. “That’s how you play offense in a world where it seems like the sky is falling every day. Our objective is not for us to have agriculture survive, to be in some death grip day in and day out, but for agriculture to thrive and be a vital part of Florida’s future.”

Jim Mercer, outgoing FFVA chairman and senior vice president of Collier Enterprises Ltd., said growers spend a lot of money hiring consultants to show them how to follow increasing government rules.

“This is the first time in my life in agriculture where I have not been as worried about the next hurricane or freeze as opposed to the biggest flood of government regulations, which is the biggest threat to our future,” he said.

Also at the 67th yearly convention, FFVA members elected Drew Duda, senior vice president of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.’s Duda Ranches, which includes Duda citrus, sod, sugar cane and cattle operations, as its 2010-12 chairman and Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, as its vice chairman.