A group of about two dozen state and federal regulators ushered in spring FFVA-style by spending the week criss-crossing South Florida on the association’s spring regulatory tour.

The five-day event gives guests from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida’s departments of agriculture and environmental protection, and the state’s water management districts a chance to see specialty crop production firsthand. For many, it is the first time they have visited a farm.

The participants, who regulate aspects of agriculture from water quality to pesticide use, have the opportunity to see production practices and talk with growers about how regulations affect their operations.

As a kickoff, Benita Whalen of the South Florida Water Management District gave an overview and history of water management and regulation in South Florida so participants would have an understanding of our state’s unique approach to flood control and water regulation.

The busy itinerary included stops at The Old Collier Golf Club in Fort Myers (golf course pest management), Syngenta Flowers and Keepsake Plants in eastern Lee County (ornamentals, azaleas and chrysanthemums), Lipman Produce in Estero (sandland vegetables), Barron Collier/Silver Strand in northern Collier County (citrus), Sugar Cane Growers Co-op/Florida Crystals Corp. in Belle Glade (sugar cane), King Ranch in western Palm Beach County (sod), Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Belle Glade (muck vegetables), American Farms in Naples (ornamental nursery production), and the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

Tour participants were enthusiastic about viewing operations for themselves and having a chance to ask questions of producers. From hand harvesting to computer-controlled greenhouses, the tour showed the diversity of Florida agriculture.

Throughout the week, the guests saw demonstrations and heard explanations of pesticide application, integrated pest management, water filtration and storage, precision ag equipment, harvesting methods, crop diversity, pest pressures and research trials.

Learning about ag firsthand

There’s nothing like seeing the real thing, and the guests gave the tour high marks for the experience. The hosts at each stop and the demonstrations provided valuable information to help regulators do their jobs, and that’s the whole idea.

The hosts “were incredibly informative, and all information was relevant,” wrote one participant on the evaluation. “Learning about some of the disease and resistance issues put everything in perspective.”

“It was impressive to see the vast amount of vegetables being grown and how all of the strategies play a role in their success,” another commented. “The pest issues were very valuable to have an insight into [production] difficulties.”

Another wrote, “I have a different and better view of this industry now… what a fine opportunity this is.”

Some said that the tour changed their understanding of the regulatory environment that specialty crop producers face.

“Learning about the economic issues they have to deal with and how the decisions we make as regulatory agents affect individuals at the small-scale level” was helpful, added another participant.

Besides getting a good dose of sunshine and eating some really fine down-home Florida cuisine, each one took back to his or her respective job a better understanding of the difficulties and concerns of farmers.

The event is organized each year by Dan Botts, FFVA’s vice president of Industry Resources.

A special thanks to the sponsors: the Sugar Cane Growers Co-op of Florida, the Lee County Mosquito Control District, Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, Agricultural Environmental Seminars, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Tomato Exchange and the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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 lisalochridge@ffva.com.