I had a chance to chat on June 8 with Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.


12:24 p.m. Tom Karst: Great. Mike thanks for taking time for a Fresh Talk chat. What are you working on so far this week?


12:26 p.m. Mike Stuart:  We're just back from our Board of Directors meeting, which was held last week in Naples. Had some interesting discussions about several of the big issues facing growers here in Florida.


12:27 p.m. Tom: I would say that Florida growers have not had it particularly easy. Between citrus diseases, the tomato market, drought, etc. What is the mindset of growers and the trade, or does it vary by commodity?


12:34 p.m. Mike:  It varies, as you might expect. But, this year -- perhaps more than any I can recall -- has been particularly tough for growers. And the view ahead doesn't offer much in the way of encouragement. But, as the old saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We should be a lot stronger next year.


12:37 p.m. Tom: You have mentioned before the merits of working with other associations like Western Growers to extend the value of (the groups).  How is that concept working out so far? I would think there may be areas of cooperation but other times - when there are differences of opinion about canker protocol or other issues - where it might be tougher. What's your experience so far?


12:39 p.m. Mike: Tom, I've always believed industry groups should work together on solutions to our industry's challenges. The success of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance is solid evidence that cooperation among our organizations can pay big dividends. When differences of opinion arise...and they do...you work through them. The value of what you can accomplish together far outweighs the occasional disagreement.


12:45 p.m. Tom: You have probably been keeping close tabs on the food safety debate in Congress. How will FFVA engage this issue over the next several months? Are you optimistic for an outcome that will help growers?


12:49 p.m. Mike: We're watching it closely. We believe it's highly likely we'll have a bill this year. I'm proud of the fact that the industry's been proactive on the legislative language. But, it's far from clear on whether the result will be something that's workable for growers and shippers. A risk-focused, flexible approach is critically important. We'll be working closely with the national and regional groups on this.


12:52 p.m. Tom: Mike, I know you have been vocal about the need for grower profitability in national issues such as generic promotion. From what you here from your members, what can you tell us about their feelings about the proposed national promotion board for fruits and vegetables? How much is their attitude tied to the current economic climate and the other "asks" they are confronted with - traceability, food safety, labor, etc?


1:00 p.m. Mike:  Good timing on the question!! Elizabeth Pivonka from PBH attended our board meeting last Friday and outlined the proposed promotion program. I think it's fair to say that growers in Florida and elsewhere fear that the funding burden for the program will ultimately rest on their shoulders. Personally, I think their fears are well-founded. And, when they look at their rising production costs (as well as some of the "asks" on the horizon, as you mentioned), they wonder where it's all going to come from. It's not coming from the marketplace...at least not this year.


1:03 p.m. Tom: Mike thanks for your time. I recently read your Packer 25 profile and saw the acronym George Sorn used - Calif interpreted as - come and live in Florida - What's the biggest highlight for you since you came to serve at the FFVA and left California?


1:07 p.m. Mike: Tom...there have been many. But, to me, the biggest "highlight" has been working with such a phenomenal group of people here at FFVA and in our industry. I've truly been blessed.


1:08 p.m. Tom: Again, Mike. I appreciate your time. I look forward to the next time we can do this.


Mike:  Happy to do it.