By J.M. Copeland
For Hometown News
The 2013 Florida Farm Bureau State Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference July 12 to 14 could easily been mistaken for a family reunion -- and in many ways that's just what it was.
These families were all part of the 1 percent who grow the food, raise the beef and provide the dairy for the rest of us.
The annual conference at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort was more than a place to glean information, it was also an opportunity to meet up with friends, show off new members of the family and compare notes of personal and farm milestones in the past year.
Brad Austin, president of the Leadership Community of Young Farmers & Ranchers, works on his in-laws' dairy ranch in Jackson County with his wife Meghan, a large animal veterinarian.
Mr. Austin grew up in Fort Lauderdale, not known for farming, and welcomes the opportunity to talk to the few who understand the farming life. For him, the love of farming came during his first year at the University of Florida, later than most of his peers.
"Most of my friends from high school don't understand what I do. This weekend allows us to interact with people that are going through the same things we are,"
Conference attendance was more than in past years and attracted new members, according to Michael Roglasky, YF&R/Women's Coordinator Field Services.
"We have 182 attending and 53 are first timers," Mr. Roglasky said.
Issues the leadership weekend program addressed extended beyond the fields. Topics of the biggest concern were finances, inheritance taxes and promoting the farms.
"Most farmers don't promote themselves. They are raised to be modest," said Joe Siegmeister, assistant director of field services for District IV, which includes Volusia County. "This leadership program helps people bring some out of their shells."
Many, like Sam Daugharty, are farming the land their ancestors farmed.
"You see some folks you don't see but once a year," said Mr. Daugharty, a soft-spoken sixth generation farmer in Volusia County.
His plans for the weekend included visiting with friends from North Florida and attending the agritourism sessions.
"It's another revenue you can make on your farm," Mr. Daugharty said. "I may not do it, but it's good to find out about."
Many farmers have incorporated agritourism into their farms by creating special areas on their land from corn mazes to having fields for the public to pick their own food.
"Agriculture is so diverse" Mr. Steigmeister said. "There's aquaculture, agritours and you-pick. All for people who want to have a special day on a farm."
A tour of Volusia and Flagler counties on Saturday took the attendees to fern farms and the Evans Fish Farm, specializing in raising sturgeon for caviar, in Pierson to the Florida Agricultural Museum in Flagler County, and a variety of local farms along the way.
Mr. Austin said the industry is more complex than it was 40 years ago and many farmers today have secondary educations, calling himself the "extreme" having earned a Ph.D.
The dairy farm Mr. Austin works with is like most dairy farms in the state. They provide milk for Publix and Winn-Dixie grocery stores.
"If you buy from them, there's a good chance you're getting Florida milk," Mr. Austin said. "People want to know about their food."