Farming, by its nature, is a pretty solitary profession. Even if you’re involved with a large farming operation, your sphere of influence may be somewhat limited.
Andy Ballard, production manager at diversified Hundley Farms based in Belle Glade and a graduate of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Emerging Leader Development Program’s Class 1, says the program awakened him to just how limited his political knowledge and connections were.
“The program really exposed me to the different sides of the ag community from the political side,” he says.
Among the myriad issues to which the young leaders were introduced were water quality regulations, the Food Safety Modernization Act and food safety rules in general.
The 39-year-old Ballard, who oversees sugar cane and green bean production and sweet corn planting, says he planned to take back some of his newfound food safety knowledge to help improve parts of the operation.
He also came away with the belief that growers need to learn more about each others’ operations and to do a better job uniting on issues that may affect their livelihood.
“A united ag community is a strong ag community,” Ballard says.
But as someone who grew up on a South Florida sugar cane operation, he says he also understands growers’ perspectives.
“I think other growers are in the same boat,” Ballard says.
“They’re sort of trapped in their own world, and they don’t realize there are other parts of this ag industry that affects them—aspects on the political side of it,” he says.
Ballard says he also knows first-hand the time constraints that farming can bring, so he’s not suggesting that growers spend countless hours on an issue.
Instead, the steps can be small, such as attending an FFVA function, signing a petition or just learning a bit more about the issues.
There’s also more of a grassroots approach. Growers can become agricultural advocates by taking young people under their wing and educating them about that’s involved in growing food – “even if it’s just taking some young people out and showing them how ag can be fun,” he says. “It’s hard work, but it’s also rewarding work.”
By doing so, growers will help develop additional industry supporters.