Sep 30, 2022Florida growers discuss labor, input challenges
Florida’s growers are working to ensure state and federal policymakers hear their concerns about the numerous challenges and proposed rules to grow fresh produce.
At the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) convention Sept. 12-14 at Amelia Island, Florida, growers learned how their industry is dealing with many obstacles, including continued availability of a reliable workforce and pesticide and water restrictions as the Sunshine State’s produce industry transitions to new leadership.
“FFVA is recognized around the nation and the world,” said David Hill, owner of Southern Hill Farms, a Clermont, Florida, grower of blueberries and FFVA’s new chairman. “The battles we fight are ongoing. … The challenges can be difficult, but the fight never ends.”
Hill said he is optimistic, however, and credits young leaders in the industry for that optimism.
Outgoing chairman Aaron Troyer, general manager of Fort Myers, Florida, potato grower-shipper Troyer Bros. Florida Inc., discussed how FFVA supports Florida growers.
“So often, our industry is set to advocate our story to folks who don’t understand us, who don’t understand what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We are accused of so many problems in the world that aren’t our fault.”
Troyer listed some of the issues on which FFVA volunteers and staff advocated for growers, including climate change restrictions posed by the Biden administration and lawsuits that would have mandated vaccinations for workers.
A session during the convention featured the FFVA’s work over the past year.
FFVA advocated for policy changes to address concerns about the H-2A visa program for temporary ag workers. A founding member of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, FFVA led discussions of legislation designed to place workers on a path toward legal status and make H-2A program improvements.
In the state’s capitol, FFVA worked to secure funding to boost University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant nutrient application rate research. FFVA testified to the Senate Agriculture Committee on issues growers were experiencing in the supply chain and provided guidance on potential state-led solutions.
FFVA advocated for legislation giving agricultural landowners seeking land use changes the right to do so without overly stringent local government environmental site assessment requirements. The association also worked to ensure a property’s agricultural classification remains protected if engaged in agritourism.
In crop protection, FFVA and other farm groups initiated legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules prohibiting the use of chlorpyrifos pesticides on all food crops. Though the rule went into effect, FFVA continues to educate regulatory agencies on how such rules affect growers and helps growers find solutions.
In coordination with agricultural consultants, partners and the Food and Drug Administration, FFVA voiced concerns with the FDA’s proposed rule to change certain preharvest agricultural water requirements. FFVA supported producers in submitting individual feedback to help refine the rule.
Troyer noted the importance of strong working relationships that FFVA enjoys with other ag groups across the country. Representatives of other groups attended the FFVA event, including Western Growers, the Produce Marketing Association, Produce for Better Health Foundation, the National Watermelon Association, the Southern Crop Protection Association and Florida Farm Bureau.
“We had some victories and had some setbacks, but we’re doing really well as an association defending our agricultural industry,” Troyer said.
The 78th annual convention attracted more than 450 participants, according to show organizers.
-By Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor
Photo above: New Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association chairman David Hill of Southern Hill Farms, left, honors outgoing chairman Aaron Troyer of Troyer Bros. Florida. Spouses Anna Troyer, center right, and Lisa Hill, watch on.