Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

The industry could see a genesis of change when the current class of future Florida agriculture leaders transitions to the next one at this year’s Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association fall convention, Sept. 17-19 in Naples, Fla.

The 11 participants in the third class of the Emerging Leader Development Program learned how they can more effectively fight for the industry’s interests.

The year-long program fosters better business and personal relationships and helps equip students in their mid-20s through early 40s to become vocal advocates for the industry.

The itinerary included visits to Florida and California production operations plus meetings with lawmakers in Tallahassee and to FFVA’s Maitland headquarters to learn from industry leaders on the challenges pressing their businesses.

Many in the class knew little of the work FFVA does, said Jeff Goodale, business development manager for Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc.

“It was like a firehose on us, we were so wet,” the 38-year-old said. “I now have so much more inclination to visit with my congressman. Others tell me they’ve travelled to Washington, D.C., as part of other groups. I’m like ‘sign me up.’”

Daniel Cavazos, farm manager of Veg Pro International in Belle Glade, Fla.,, said the legislative visits and meetings with California growers awakened him to the industry’s struggles.

“We can be caught up in our little bubbles in our work,” Cavazos said. “Most of the time, farmers out here are a little reluctant to talk with their lawmakers. I hope this helps show others how they can expand their opportunities in agriculture and encourage them to become more involved in agricultural issues.”

There are striking contrasts in how agricultural interests are treated in California and Florida.

The Golden State’s urban-dominated legislature appears less interested in helping businesses overall.

Florida’s urban areas are also vocal but agriculture retains a strong presence in the state capital.

California’s Monterey County sports an agriculture commissioner who annually ranks the county’s leading crops.

In Florida, lawmakers in some agricultural-based counties appear less focused on the business while agricultural issues are more prominent at the state level and through an agricultural commissioner who’s vocal about protecting farming.

The challenges confronting this industry, particularly California and Florida growers, seem endless.

Worker and water shortages remain hot topics but environmental and labor regulations are also critical.

The FFVA effort and other industry leadership programs do more than help better individuals for their produce careers.

The policymakers, industry advocates and growers the young professionals interact with shape the next agricultural generation and encourage them to speak on behalf of their industry.

As the average age of U.S. growers continues to climb, the industry needs an infusion of energy from these young leaders.

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