Class 2 of FFVA's Emerging Leader Development Program spent almost three days on the road in late January getting a look at a variety of crops and production practices in South Florida.

From sugar cane to snap beans to leafy greens and more, the 11 class members were hosted by various FFVA members, including alumni from the leadership program's first class.

The tour took in farms and packinghouses in Belle Glade, Clewiston, LaBelle, South Bay and Loxahatchee.

Stops included U.S. Sugar cane fields, A. Duda and Sons' citrus groves, Southern Gardens' juice processing plant, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative's sugar mill, Hundley Farms' radish fields, TKM Bengard Farms' lettuce production and processing facility, R.C. Hatton's green bean and sweet corn packing lines, Hugh Branch Inc.’s sales office, Roth Farms' vegetable fields, Lipman's round and grape tomato production, and Grower's Management's leafy green production. 

During the trip, the FFVA leadership class’ path crossed with that of the Produce Industry Leadership Program from the United Fresh Produce Association, which was spending the week in Florida.

The two groups toured the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative mill together and mixed and mingled at dinner that evening.

The joint meeting provided a valuable opportunity for the two leadership classes to network, says program director Sonia Tighe, who is executive director of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation, which administers the leadership program for FFVA.

Tom Dalton of Riverfront Packing said the trip helped him see beyond citrus, the commodity in which he works.

“It's so easy to get singularly focused on whatever commodity you're growing that you really don't have any idea of what others are doing out there,” he says. “Seeing some of the production practices and talking with growers of all different types of commodities was eye-opening for me.”

What’s more, Dalton says the program is equipping him to be a better leader.

“The program has definitely helped me to broaden my base. I'm no longer looking at things through ‘grapefruit-tinted glasses,’“ he says. “I'm able to see what things others are struggling with and see how we can collectively work together to solve some of our issues.”

The group also heard presentations from Barbara Miedema of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Dr. Robert Gilbert of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Everglades Research and Education Center. The class toured the Redlands Christian Migrant Association's center in Belle Glade.

Class 1 members who hosted the group were Heather Banky of U.S. Sugar; Rob Atchley of A. Duda and Sons; and Andy Ballard of Hundley Farms. Representatives of DuPont, the ELDP's sustaining sponsor for 2012-13, joined the class along the way.

Launched in 2011 with an inaugural class of 10, the FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program is designed to equip participants with a depth of knowledge of the issues facing agriculture and provide them with the education and tools to become effective advocates for specialty crop agriculture.

The program helps to ensure the sustainability and economic viability of the industry and to strengthen grassroots engagement in FFVA.

The 2012-2013 class members are Jonathan Allen of R.C. Hatton Inc.; Nicholas Basore of TKM Bengard Farms; Ian Bessell of ABC Research Laboratories; Lee Ann Hinton Coleman of Hinton Farms Produce; Thomas Dalton of Farm Credit of Central Florida; Carleton Johns of Tater Farms; Jessica Kerstein of Lipman Produce; Amber Kosinsky of Wish Farms; Tom Mitchell of Riverfront Packing Co.; Derek Orsenigo of Grower’s Management Inc.; and Joby Sherrod of A. Duda & Sons.

Nomination forms for Class 3 will be available in April. For more information, visit

Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. She can be reached at (321) 214-5206 or