Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

This year’s Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention meets with an eye toward honing the leadership skills of future industry leaders.

The state’s fresh produce industry is cultivating potential leaders through the Emerging Leader Development Program.

The program, which started last year, identifies and develops up-and-coming agricultural workers.

The first graduating class consists of 10 young people from major growing and packing operations and allied industries including crop protection, fertilizer and finance.

Through tours of Florida and California production and packing operations, roundtable discussions at FFVA’s headquarters near Orlando, as well as visits with legislators in Tallahassee, Fla., group members say they gained a knowledge of issues facing agriculture.

Even at Gainesville-based University of Florida’s agriculture college, few graduates want to enter production agriculture, said program director Sonia Tighe, executive director of FFVA’s Florida Specialty Crop Foundation, which administers the program.

She said it’s critical to support people wanting such careers.

“This has created a new energy for FFVA, just having them at the convention and seeing their involvement and enthusiasm,” Tighe said.

“It’s really energizing as well and is a surprise benefit.”

In talking about issues, participants learned from each other and formed a peer discussion group, Tighe said.


Some of that interaction involves broadening production knowledge of participants who work in one crop to learn about other commodities, she said.

April Roe Porter, 28-year-old chief financial officer of Winter Haven, Fla., tangerine grower-shipper Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., said the field visits helped expand her produce industry vision.

“Getting into the fields here and in California, getting exposure to a lot of different crops and being out and visualizing the issues people talk about at the conventions, was eye-opening,” she said.

“The biggest thing I learned is that this really is an open-book industry,” she said. “Everyone is competitive within their area, but once we have a united agenda everyone really seems to come together and tries to solve our issues.”

FFVA executive committee member Paul Orsenigo, owner of Belle Glade, Fla.-based Orsenigo Farms Inc. and Growers Management, helped develop the program.

The grower-packer of sweet corn, green beans and leafy vegetables (marketed through Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, Fla.,) views the program as a preparation to integrate young people with agribusiness backgrounds into the issues challenging agriculture.

“I see young people in the 25-30 age group coming out of college with degrees but lacking the experience and the opportunity to see things like production in the field, ports, trade in process and things like water regulatory issues,” Orsenigo said.

Tighe said FFVA is working with Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation for Industry Talent Career Pathways program.

The two organizations plan to bring eight University of Florida students to the FFVA convention to interact with growers and participate in a convention session.

A dozen students are scheduled to enter the program’s second class at the Sept. 19-21 convention in Naples, Fla.

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