For related coverage, see Challenges test Florida growers

BALM, Fla. — Communicating the importance of Florida agriculture and effectively marketing products to younger generations are some of the issues growers need to undertake.

Urban encroachment, communication challenges test growersA group of fresh produce growers took on those issues during a panel discussion at the Nov. 6 Florida Ag Expo.

The picture that emerged was an industry afflicted with numerous challenges including labor worries and the need to promote their industry to outsiders.

“The biggest problem in agriculture is finding people who want to grow our farms,” said Michael Hill, farm manager of Clermont blueberry grower Southern Hill Farms. “In Florida, the cost of land is extremely high with tourism. The cost of production is so high you almost have to be born into a farming family or go to work for a big company.”

Jamie Williams, director of Florida operations for Immokalee-based Lipman, discussed an app he heard about that tells consumers the stage of a watermelon’s ripeness.

“People are using these devices to make decisions to purchase their food,” he said. “Shame on us for not getting out there and engaging people in a much broader way to market our products. We’re going to have to engage or get left.”

Urban encroachment, communication challenges test growersTom O’Brien, president of C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc. in Bradenton, said Sarasota and Manatee county urban development is threatening production.

“Local governments are making regulations that our farm is too close to housing,” he said. “That’s happening to a lot of guys in Hillsborough County. We will be needed in the area we’re at because farmland is going by the wayside.”

Food safety rules and worker availability are other issues challenging growers, said Paul Orsenigo, owner of Orsenigo Farms Inc. and Growers Management in Belle Glade.

“The sense of urgency is huge,” he said. “The farmer’s worst nightmare is growing a crop and not being able to harvest it. If we don’t have the labor to harvest a crop of sweet corn, it’s going to be pretty hard to swallow.”

The event was co-sponsored by Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and Florida Tomato Committee, Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association and Gainesville-based University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences.