Time marches on, and American farmers are feeling it. The average age of the American farmer continues to rise. In 1984, it was 50. This year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, it’s 58.3. FFVA talked with three growers who are still active but are looking ahead to the future.
Pam Fentress grows citrus and owns Lost Lake Groves Inc. in Lake Placid, which her family founded in 1964. David Hill is owner of Southern Hill Farms in Clermont, which was launched in 1999 and grows blueberries. Paul Orsenigo grows sweet corn, green beans and leafy vegetables in Belle Glade. He’s a partner in Grower’s Management and owns Orsenigo Farms. He started farming in 1985.
FFVA: How important is it to be looking ahead to the next generation of leadership for your company and for the industry, and what steps are you taking to do so?
Photos Courtesy FFVADavid HillHill: Planning for the future is huge with any farm, but we are blessed to have our two sons who are now working on the farm. We’re doing a lot of things looking to the future. We’re changing some things, growing and evolving, and they are a big part of that. They’re taking advantage of all of the new tools that are out there. Farming is so different now than it was 30 years ago. You’ve got information at your fingertips in a smartphone and computer that we never had. And it has helped our farm tremendously.
Fentress: I'm a seventh-generation Floridian and a fourth-generation citrus grower. Being a small grower with multiple generations of family members wanting to farm the same piece of land is tough. Over the years we've expanded our operation to accommodate, but there comes a time when it doesn't make economic sense to do so anymore. Sometimes you have to refocus, find your niche, cut your losses and move forward as lean and mean as you can.
Orsenigo: One way to approach it is to “grow from within.” My son, Derek, is part of our succession plan. We’re also constantly trying to identify people who are good candidates for employment. If you’ve done this long enough, you can quickly see whether there is desire and managerial potential in an individual. Another key quality is a connection to the land and the crop. To farm successfully, you have to continue to have an appreciation for what you do every day, even as you deal with the ups and downs and the daily details. Mentorship also is important. Someone has to mentor young people—take them out to your operations. Cultivate those relationships and try to stay in contact with them so that when they do start on their career paths, they have an opportunity and it is a mutually rewarding fit.