In Polk County, the agriculture industry remains one of our most important economic drivers. To highlight this valuable industry, business and community leaders gathered at the Central Florida Development Council’s Agriculture Industry Breakfast to discuss the promising future of agriculture. During the breakfast, a panel of industry experts answered key questions and discussed future trends. The event was held at the Polk County Farm Bureau in Bartow.

The panel discussion, which was moderated by Callie Neslund of The Mosaic Company, included a four-member group – each representing a different facet of the industry.  Steve Maxwell, of Highland Precision Ag, spoke to the importance of agri-technology and advancing the farm’s efficiency, environmental stewardship, and productivity while maintaining regulatory compliance. Christian Spinosa, of Dudley Putnam, Inc., offered perspective from a young farmer and rancher’s point of view, as well as spoke with authority on the state of the beef industry. Scarlett Jackson with Warner University drew a detailed picture of the challenges and recent successes in answering the demand for a younger, educated workforce in the industry.  Steven Callaham, of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, contributed valuable insight on the citrus industry, as well as other valuable commodities and alternative crops.

In discussing the current state of the industry, panelists highlighted new innovations including precision farming techniques and alternative crops suitable for our region. Some farmers have been experimenting with peaches, pomegranates, eucalyptus, olives, hops, and even bamboo.

When asked what the citrus industry will look like in 10 years, Steven Callaham responded, “10 years from now, the citrus industry may be smaller but it will be better, more efficient, and more productive.”

Steve Maxwell shared, “The community can help educate the consumer about our quality, diverse crops and when they’re available. The beautiful thing that I’ve seen, is that our young adults and up-and-coming generation get it. They understand that marketing and educating the consumer, especially through the Internet and social media, is key to driving demand for local products.”

As an up-and-coming leader, Christian Spinosa, challenged young people, saying, “Don’t be scared. Get in. There are plenty of opportunities for young people coming out of college to get in the many, diverse facets of the ag industry.”

Scarlett Jackson highlighted the importance of education and talent pipeline development, stating, “One of the biggest needs in our industry is for skilled professionals in production. They require someone to come on board who knows what to do from the first to the last step. At Warner University, we are educating students to handle the production side, as well as the equally important business side, of growing crops and raising livestock.”

Sean Malott, CFDC president and chief executive officer said, “The CFDC will continue to do its part to support the agriculture industry and be an advocate for key business issues.  As local consumers, we can all do our part by asking for Florida-grown produce at our stores and markets.”