Strawberry conference sessions tackle labor, marketingPLANT CITY, Fla. — Just before they began to prepare their crop beds, Florida strawberry growers learned the latest on labor, marketing and other issues during this year’s Agritech educational seminar and trade show.

The Aug. 5-6 event, sponsored by the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association, also experienced high grower attendance.

Michael Carlton, director of labor relations for the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, provided an update on the ongoing battle to secure immigration reform.

Carlton holds little hope for reform passage but said there’s the potential of President Obama taking action through his presidential executive authority.

Strawberry conference sessions tackle labor, marketing“The question becomes would he do anything with his authority to help agriculture?,” he said. “I quite frankly think the answer is highly unlikely. It’s unlikely we will see comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon.”

In a session on what consumers want in berry varieties in terms of taste, John Beuttenmuller, executive director of the Gainesville-based Florida Foundation Seed Producers Inc., said growers are unable to grow premium better-tasting varieties.

“What we have is a disconnect,” he said. “The consumer wants something and the grower would like to provide it but there needs to be an incentive for growers to provide such a high-flavor product. The market lacks a functional direct financial incentive or reward for growers to focus on flavor and the status quo does not provide growers an incentive to focus on flavor.”

With consumers seeking “experiences” with food, including posting photographs on social media sites, Beuttenmuller said grower-shippers need to capitalize on the fresh trend and renewed interest in food.

Sue Harrell, the association’s director of marketing, reviewed the organization’s marketing efforts.

She talked about the group’s increased involvement in social media and working with food bloggers.

“The more people that talk about you online, the higher up you are on the search engines,” Harrell said. “We are creating a lot of buzz.”

Also at the event, Kenneth Parker, the association’s new executive director, was officially introduced to growers.

“Florida strawberry growers have had a storied past,” he said. “Generations of growers before me have left a legacy. It’s great to have a legacy left but just because we have a legacy doesn’t mean we’re entitled. I think it will take all of us working together to push the bar even higher for this industry to succeed.”