AALP Class 20 North American Study Tour - Florida

Date: March 8, 2024

Author: Tina Beirnes, AALP Class 20

Florida Day 3 - February 27, 2024

Everglades Research and Education Centre (EREC)

Day 3 in Florida started at the Everglades Research and Education Centre (EREC). Dr. Samira Daroub who is the Professor and EREC Center Director, Soil and Water Sciences, gave us the 100 + year history of the center which has expanded to 12 centers across Florida. When it first opened it was focused on cattle and dairy research but now also includes sugar cane, rice, sweet corn, hemp, lettuce and other vegetable crops. The center is known for its development of new varieties every year.

 We then discussed the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), 452,000 acres of farmland.  It is mandated by the Everglades Forever Act. Every grower that farms here needs a Discharge Monitoring Plan and must follow the Nutrient BMP’s. In addition, the farmers also pay tax on their land each year for continued research and restoration for the area. This area is also known for its barn owl program. Small rodents are an issue in fields here, so they have built barn owl boxes throughout the EAA for control.

The EREC is home to the Soil Testing Lab and Water Research Lab. The soil lab performs 8000 – 10,000 samples per year and is specialized to work with muck soils. The lab provides producers in the EAA with a recommendation for their land. The water lab looks at PH analysis and phosphorus among other nutrients. Water use and care are very important here with 187 farms using pump stations for water management.

Florida is the Winter Vegetable Capital of the United States!

Florida is the “Winter Vegetable Capital of the US” which lead us nicely into our tour of TKM Bengard’s Lettuce Packing House. A family business that started in Michigan then moved to Florida in the 60’s to farm the muck. Currently producing about 15 types of lettuce throughout the winter months they ship over 100 million lbs of iceberg lettuce each season. If you see a “Fresh from Florida” logo on your lettuce it may have come from TKM Bengard Farms!

We walked through the packing house where many bins of lettuce that had been picked off the field that morning were stored. Each bin weighs about 800-1200 lbs and are moved to a cooling room where they are stored until they reach a specific temperature, after which they are then shipped across the United States, Canada and even the world.

Our next stop for the day was to the Belglade Museum to learn about the history of farming and football in the area. From there we went to Everglades Equipment, the local 4th generation John Deere dealership with 18 locations across the state. The Belglade location brings in 350 tractors each year for the sugar cane harvest!

Florida Day 4 - February 27, 2024

Day 4 in Florida had us out in the fields for harvest. We stopped at a TKM Bengard Farms field where they were harvesting lettuce and then moved on to see sugar cane and cabbage being harvested. We did a windshield tour of a sugar mill and got to taste some raw sugar. We then headed towards Lake Placid where we got to take a nice foot tour of the Town of Murals.

 Some fun packed days of learning and touring in Florida!