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Military Ag Tour
Posted June 8, 2017 | 10:41 AM

Military Service Sows Talent for Agribusiness

A bus tour reinforces idea that farming and related professions are a natural fit for some servicemen and servicewomen

Agriculture is a fertile field for reservists, active-duty personnel, and veterans thinking about another career. The skills, discipline, and temperament developed in the military transfer nicely to many agricultural jobs.

Those with experience in the armed forces recently had a chance to see and hear about such professions on a day-long bus tour arranged by Hillsborough County's Economic Development agency, Extension Service, and Farm Bureau. The Feb. 3 excursion included visits to:

  • Fancy Farms, a family-owned strawberry farm near Plant City
  • Highland Precision Ag, a Mulberry-based agricultural consulting service that develops and uses cutting-edge technology
  • The University of Florida/IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Service) Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm
  • DiMare Fresh, a tomato packing operation in Riverview

Farming no longer is just about driving a tractor, though that's part of it. Time-tested skills, combined with research and state-of-the-art technology, give modern farmers their best shot at delivering products that are plentiful, tasty, and healthy.

Still, even with the latest advancements and hard work, much is left to chance - and nature. "Every year is a challenge because you don't know what the outcome's going to be until you get through it," says Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms. "It's a cruel world out here in the agricultural industry."

This is where the discipline, tenacity, and fearless can-do attitude learned in the military can pay off.

Grooms' words of caution didn't dissuade tour participants such as retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Burrell, a former military cost analyst and finance manager with an MBA degree. Burrell, who was among about 35 people on the bus tour, envisions using the talents he developed in the Air Force to run a small farm, possibly with a restaurant and produce stand. He currently is participating in the new Veteran Agriculture Selection Program at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.

Of farming, Burrell says: "It's something new. Something I haven't done before. It has potential to grow." And, like many industries, it revolves around money and pricing - his areas of expertise during a 28-year Air Force career.

Josh Young, a former U.S. Marine who served from 1996 through 2000, owns Crop Protection Services of Florida. The Plant City firm sells chemical, biological and nutritional products to farmers.

"Your military background will help you," Young told tour participants at the UF/IFAS research and education center. "Your focus. Your drive. Not quitting, even though it gets hard sometimes."

Photo Information: Tour participants pose in front of a building at Fancy Farms near Plant City.