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Agriculture Press Release
October 30, 2002
Bronson presents Ag-Environmental Leadership awards
DAYTONA BEACH -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson presented awards to three agricultural operations in recognition of their leadership in promoting progressive environmental practices.
The 2002 Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Awards were presented during a breakfast ceremony at the Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s 61st annual meeting in Daytona Beach on Friday, November 1. The awards program is now in its ninth year and has recognized a total of 29 winners.
"The Ag-Environmental Leadership Award program spotlights the environmentally innovative farming practices of our state’s growers and ranchers," Bronson said. "Focusing public attention on their efforts helps illuminate Florida agriculture’s dedication to preserving the environment and conserving natural resources while helping ensure a continuing supply of food and fiber."
This year’s winners are: Sanwa Growers Inc., of Wimauma; Holloway Tree Farm and Holloway Irrigations Systems of Leesburg; and Daniel A. Botts of Orlando.
"Agriculturalists are the original environmentalists," Bronson said. "As a lifelong rancher, I have always respected the bond between man and the environment. We depend on the land, and are charged with being its true stewards as we strive to meet the growing demands of our nation and the world."
Nominations for the awards were received earlier this year by a screening committee composed of scientific and technical experts with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which selected the finalists. The three winners were then selected from the group of finalists by a selection committee made up of representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the state’s Water Management Districts, the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the Florida Dairy Association, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Florida Citrus Mutual, and the Florida Forestry Association.
Winner: Sanwa Growers, Inc., Wimauma
It is a long way from Hong Kong to Central Florida and a long road from running a small vegetable farm to becoming a major produce grower and distributor. Tony and Connie Leung have made both journeys.
Born in Hong Kong, Tony and Connie attended the University of Guelph in Canada and also ran a small produce operation there before finding their way south to Hillsborough County, where in 1981 Tony opened Sanwa Growers, Inc., on a small piece of leased land. Connie joined the operation several years later, combining her skill in economics with Tony’s knowledge of agriculture to develop an ethnic vegetable business that immediately began expanding and is still growing today.
"Over the years our management team has talked about being at the stage that we’re not going to expand anymore," Connie said. "We have a joke that we are downsizing – but we are downsizing in an upward direction."
Although Tony’s real love is farming, he and Connie recognized the need to diversify, and they soon began marketing directly to chain stores. Moving to a more vertically integrated operation, they did more work themselves – from growing greenhouse seedlings to assembling and maintaining a fleet of delivery vehicles. They also began to supplement their locally grown product with produce imported mainly from South and Central America.
Demand for their products increased so rapidly that the Leungs added a packinghouse in Wimauma as well as sales and distribution centers in Miami and Atlanta. Recently, Sanwa purchased a landmark produce center in Tampa and converted it to a one-stop food-service provider that also houses their meat and poultry divisions. Sanwa’s wholesaling operation became its primary business.
As Sanwa has grown, the founders and staff haven’t forgotten the community that has supported them. They assist a local shelter for abused women and children; a community health center; a sheriff’s program for children; migrant worker child care centers; the Ag in the Classroom program; and many other community activities. Sanwa has also hosted tours by ministers of agriculture from other countries and visits by Florida legislators.
Sanwa’s workforce is a big part of its success. The Leungs consider their employees to be their most important resource. They demonstrate this by training and cross-training employees and then routinely promoting from within Sanwa’s ranks. The result is a team of hard-working, loyal employees and managers who grow along with the company, increasing productivity and keeping morale high.
"Particularly rewarding are people who have worked for us from the beginning, starting at entry-level jobs, and are now making daily decisions in management positions," Connie said.
In 1998, Tony volunteered Sanwa Growers to be the first pilot farm for the Whole Farm Planning project, a multi-agency effort to find more understandable and less burdensome ways for growers and producers to meet environmental protection objectives. Tony also volunteered Sanwa’s general manager, Sue Grier, to represent the company on the 12-agency team that included the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Environmental Protection, and Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The team analyzed Sanwa’s farm operations, exploring ways to consolidate agency efforts, and the result was the combination of 22 permits and 99 compliance conditions into one plan. Suddenly, the large number of regulators with which the farmer must deal was replaced by one familiar face.
"We would like to see farmers run their operations not with less regulation, but with more streamlined regulation," Grier said, adding that growers will also benefit from new technology that the Whole Farm Plan makes available to them. "If it is economically feasible and would work for our crops, we would agree to implement it."
Sanwa’s willingness to take the lead in this innovative process serves as a template for businesses in other counties and states. By making it easier for farmers to grow food, the Whole Farm Plan offers to save time and money for the agricultural industry. Thanks to Sanwa, benefits from the program extend from farmers and environmentalists all the way to consumers.
Another boost to Florida agriculture comes from Sanwa’s partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to expand and renovate the Sanford Farmers’ Market, turning the nation’s oldest continuously operated state farmers’ market into a state-of-the-art distribution facility. As part of a 10-year lease, coolers, fixtures, processing equipment, and storage facilities will be added to the market, and Sanwa will occupy 11,000-square-feet of warehouse and 2,200-square-feet of office space. Through volume production and marketing, the Sanford State Farmers’ Market will assure effective competition for growers and buyers both large and small.
Sanwa’s community, regulatory, and environmental efforts show a deep appreciation of the land on which they farm.
"Our business is food, and food comes from the land," Tony said. "We depend on the air, the soil, and the sunshine. Protecting the land from premature development and working it for full production, that’s good stewardship."
Winner: Holloway Irrigation Systems / Holloway Tree Farm, Leesburg
Flood-plain irrigation is one of the oldest forms of watering crops. Collecting rain water is one of the simplest. Recycling irrigation water is both economically and environmentally sound practice.
Rufus Holloway put those three ideas together and the result was the Holloway Irrigation System, an ingenious method of watering containerized plants that provides substantial benefits for the plants, the growers, and the environment.
Rufus Holloway came from a Leesburg farming family that had been producing citrus since 1929. He received degrees from the University of Florida and Duke University Medical School and became a respected surgeon at the Florida Ear Institute in Orlando. But he continued the family citrus farming tradition until 1983 when a severe freeze destroyed most of the groves in the region, including several acres on the family farm. While continuing to practice medicine, he sought a new direction for his farming and began Holloway Tree Farm, a nursery that produced high-quality, container-grown ornamental trees.
The invention of the Holloway Irrigation System was borne out of the necessity of efficiently watering the ornamental nursery. The best irrigation technology at the time used networks of thin tubes and micro-nozzles that would often jam or clog and required considerable labor to maintain.
"The idea came to me over a period of several months for developing an irrigation system that was different than the conventional system that I’d grown up with, and with which we had started the tree farm in the 1980s," Holloway said. "The idea was to develop something that was less labor intensive and that would also save water."
Assisted by his son, Michael M. Holloway, the vice president of operations at Holloway Irrigation Systems and also a doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery, Rufus Holloway constructed the first simple system out of children’s swimming pools in which he set potted plants. He immediately noticed two things: the plants didn’t need as much water as with other types of irrigation systems, and the plants grew more quickly.
The Holloways then built a full-size system, laser sculpting the ground contour and using a special white polyethylene membrane to line the system’s reservoir and multiple flood plains, effectively isolating the system from the ground underneath. Rainwater is gathered over the entire membrane area so that many inches of rainwater are collected for each measured inch of rain that falls. The rainwater is immediately transferred to the reservoir for storage. In areas with more than 25 inches of rainfall a year, the system uses 100 percent recycled water, drawing no water from the aquifer or the earth’s surface. The system on the Holloway Tree Farm is such a self-contained system, and each year saves 4-6 million gallons of water per acre over traditional irrigation methods.
"One of the best assets for a source of water is the sky," Michael Holloway said. "And what’s exciting about this system is that it’s a new and innovative way to harvest rainwater for reuse."
Large pipes connect the reservoir and flood plains, and a valve system controls flow so that each plain can be irrigated individually. Water is pumped onto a plain by a large-volume, low-pressure pump, rises to a predetermined level, and then is allowed to drain back into the reservoir by gravity. A half-acre plain takes about 30 minutes to fill with 10 to 12 inches of water and then just a few minutes to drain. While the plain is flooding, water enters the pots through holes low on their sides and saturates the soil around the roots, leaving the top layer of soil dry and reducing the chances of weed growth and insect infestation.
Each container absorbs water until its soil reaches its saturation point, and that complete saturation -- combined with extra heat reflected off the white polyethylene membrane -- increases plant growth rates by up to 50 percent Water delivery is consistent and uniform to plants within a flood plain, which means that irrigation can be done less often: sometimes as little as once every three days in contrast to the two or three times per day required by traditional microirrigation systems.
The system has few moving parts and needs few repairs. There are no filters to inspect and clean, no wells to dig, no small pipes to clog or rupture, and no microjets to examine. Rufus Holloway estimates savings as great as $4,000 a year in labor and maintenance costs and a further anticipated savings on fertilizer. Highly efficient pumps keep electrical costs low: an estimated $100 a year to irrigate 16,000 trees.
The system is also extremely environmentally friendly. No undesirable byproducts are produced, and the impermeable polyethylene membrane keeps fertilizers and pesticides from getting into the ground. The system also makes good use of the land, as it can be custom designed to fit sloped or flat terrain. Finally, as the system uses only collected rainwater, no well or water-usage permits are required.
The Holloways clearly understand the water-use responsibilities of growers in a state with a rapidly increasing population.
"There’s a strong case that should be made for any kind of water conservation," Rufus Holloway said. "But to conserve good water is a must, particularly if we are going to continue to grow at the rate we’re growing in Florida."
Winner: Daniel A. Botts, Orlando
Start with a solid scientific background and a keen knowledge of crop production, add a desire to aid Florida’s agriculture industry while protecting the environment, combine into one person with seemingly limitless energy and the result is Daniel A. Botts.
For almost a quarter of a century, Botts has worked to solve the problems of Florida’s growers and oversee the needs of the lands and waters on which Florida agriculture depends.
Botts is Director of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s (FFVA) Environmental and Pest Management Division, which functions as the focal point for grower input at the local, regional and state level and is responsible for pesticide, crop protection and environmental issues both nationally and internationally. He also serves as president of Third Party Registrations, Inc., a non-profit subsidiary of FFVA that provides registration for pest management tools critical to Florida growers.
Botts has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in zoology from Auburn University. A seven-year career as technical director for South Bay Growers, Inc., a diversified agricultural production company in South Florida, preceded his move to FFVA in 1985.
"If anybody had told me that I was going to be working in agriculture when I graduated from college 30 years ago, I would have told them they were crazy," Botts said. "But it’s one of those situations that you fall into and it works out."
Over the past decade, Botts has coordinated the Committee for Agricultural Resources in the Everglades as well as FFVA efforts in the region. He was also involved in the development of the South Florida Water Management District rules requiring implementation of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP) in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Success in that area has been tangible. The BMP program reduced phosphorus discharges from local farms by more than 50 percent, and farmers in the area now contribute 173 billion gallons of clean water to the Everglades ecosystem each year. Botts also participated in mediation between the federal government, Florida, and the agriculture industry that resulted in the Everglades Forever Act. Currently he is evaluating statistical data that will be used in establishing an Everglades phosphorus water quality standard.
"There are a lot of good people working to ensure that what comes forward is based on good, solid environmental science and represents a regulatory process that is fair and balanced," Botts said. "And we’ve still got a ways to go."
Recognized as one of the nations’ most highly respected industry representatives on issues of agricultural chemicals, food safety, and the Food Quality Protection Act, Botts has been deeply involved in helping Florida growers deal with increasing marketplace concerns over the potential microbial contamination of fruits and vegetables. Working with federal, state, and university experts, he and his staff developed the Growers Checklist for Microbial Safety on Fresh Produce, a FFVA guide to help producers assess contamination risks in their operations.
One of Botts’ most successful and far-reaching programs has been the Ag Environmental Seminar series. Over the past 13 years, hundreds of growers have come together to learn from experts – and from each other – about topics such as improving pesticides and fertilizer applications, analyzing the impact of over-fertilization on nitrate levels in groundwater, and understanding the details of various regulatory programs in protecting the environment.
Several seminars focused on the role of environmental audits and how growers could avoid future environmental audit problems, thereby eliminating the need for regulatory action. The potential savings for this environmentally conscious approach is estimated to be thousands of dollars for each grower. Botts seeks to identify ways that growers can work to achieve the desired environmental outcome while keeping economic costs manageable. In many cases the seminars help growers accomplish this goal while actually exceeding regulatory expectations.
To facilitate a greater understanding between regulators and the agricultural community, Botts organizes the Spring Regulatory Tour, an annual week-long tour of South Florida agriculture that gives between 35 and 40 regulators and EPA officials a first-hand look at how rules written in a faraway office are actually applied in practice on the farm. In one instance, a tour member has a chance to read and try to follow the instructions on a herbicide label. In another, a regulator gets to don the cumbersome hats, goggles, boots, gloves and protective suits required during pesticide applications, learning how difficult that job can be in the Florida heat. For 15 years, the tour has reached hundreds of key decision-makers, showing them the challenges and opportunities facing Florida growers and giving them information and insight to help them make more informed decisions.
As well as being in constant touch with the regulatory community, Botts maintains an intimate awareness of the many important agricultural and environmental issues around the state.
"You can anticipate issues or challenges that might face the industry, and then it’s our job to go out there and attempt to educate our membership," Botts said. "Hopefully, we can come to some kind of resolution that ends up with everybody being satisfied at the end of the day."