Jun 21, 2021Potato grower to chair Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association
Aaron Troyer, the new chair of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), steps into the leadership role with a love of farming and an impressive resume of education and experience in the agriculture industry.
In the face of challenges such as COVID-19 and trade disputes, the 43-year-old aims to preserve a fertile future for Florida farmers, who play a vital role in providing safe and healthy foods for the nation and world.
“The farming community in Florida is diverse with different growing regions and climates, all with different needs and perspectives,” said Troyer, president of Troyer Brothers, a potato grower based in Fort Myers. “I believe we need to continue the legacy of producing the highest quality fruits and vegetables needed here and all over the world. With that in mind, FFVA is an integral part of helping Florida growers accomplish this goal.”
A successful farmer and businessman, Troyer wasn’t sold on the idea of a farming career as a younger man. It took an epiphany of sorts to redirect his thinking.
“When I arrived in college for the first time, I thought I wanted to be a doctor — until I got to the cadaver room and decided that it wasn’t for me,” he said. “I know I made the right choice with farming, as most often I look forward to Monday morning on Sunday night.”
He went on to earn a bachelor’s in economics in 1998 from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He also received two master’s degrees from the University of Florida: agribusiness in 1999 and agricultural economics in 2002.
He started working part time at the family business in 1995 and then full time in 2002.
“I did everything from sweeping floors and picking rocks to irrigation and drainage work, then moved to the packinghouse where I learned about product and sales,” he said. Today, as company president, he handles administration, finance and sales.
He is a third-generation famer whose grandfather and great-uncle founded Troyer Brothers in 1943 in Erie County, Pennsylvania. As succeeding generations ran the family business, the company started operating in Florida in 1983. Troyer Brothers grows, packs and ships table potatoes for the late winter and spring markets.
“It has grown from a very small growing operation with a small packing shed to the one of the largest potato producers in Florida,” Troyer said.
The company grows red, white, yellow and purple potatoes that are all for table consumption. During harvest season from the end of January to mid-May, they are available in retail outlets and wholesale distributors from California to New York and Canada. Growing season starts about Oct. 1 with planting into mid-January. There are about 50 full-time employees, with about 200 during the season’s peak. It operates a primary packing location and several farms in Lee and Collier counties and a potato seed production farm in northwest Pennsylvania.
True to its name, the company employs several members of Troyer’s family: father David, Uncle Vernon, brothers Andrew and Anthony and sister Anna.
After college, Troyer returned to the place where he grew up: Alva, a small community on the Caloosahatchee River just east of Fort Myers in Lee County. That’s where he lives with Anna and their daughters Anabelle, 9, and Amelia, 4.
His favorite pastimes include spending time with his wife and daughters “learning things together as a family, traveling the world with them.”
He also loves cycling. “Being alone on the bicycle allows me to think and brings clarity to complex issues without interruption.”
An FFVA board member since 2010, he started his two-year term as chairman on Sept. 29, 2020. FFVA, whose membership represents the majority of fresh fruit and vegetable production in the state, is a full-service organization serving Florida’s grower-shipper community since 1943.
In addition, he has been a member of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, the South Florida Agricultural Council and the Lee County Charter Review Commission.
“Aaron Troyer is an outstanding leader and will do an excellent job guiding FFVA over the next two years as we continue our very important work on trade, workforce, legislation and other issues,” FFVA President Mike Joyner said.
FFVA asked Troyer to talk about his life as a farmer and his new role as board chair.
FFVA: What do you enjoy most about farming and being a farmer?
Aaron Troyer: I am proud to earn a living that does something good and necessary for people.
What life lessons have you learned from farming?
Troyer: Humility, hard work, faith and learning how to separate problems that one can control and others that are out of our hands. There are many risk-mitigation strategies one can use in agriculture, whether they rest with the finance and marketing side of the business or on the growing side. Ultimately, there are factors we cannot control. Learning how to cope with that in my own mind has taken much time, and I am still learning.
What are the biggest challenges facing Florida farmers?
Troyer: In my opinion, the right to farm. That is a broad statement that brings in a whole host of issues, such as water and land use, pest and disease control, labor issues and trade. In general, society has decided to outsource much of our produce production to other countries. This outsourcing was based primarily on trade deals that provided market access for foreign producers of fruit and vegetable production and related products that our government leaders traded for gains in other markets or for special-interest benefit.
One can argue that farmers and our industry will always fight for the right to farm in Florida, particularly given the pressures from voters with different perspectives on water and land use in the state. The agriculture industry is a very strong pillar of Florida’s economy, but many residents in the state often hear only negative tidbits relayed by media and politicians who see little or no value in agriculture in the state.
What is FFVA’s role in helping Florida farmers succeed?
Troyer: Advocacy is in my opinion the largest advantage for membership in the association. FFVA has weight when we as members speak with one voice. Florida is a leader on many issues that affect farming around the nation, such as transportation and freight or pest and disease control methods.
What are your goals as FFVA board chair?
Troyer: My priorities are more reactionary at the moment given the COVID-19 pandemic and current trade issues developing. I believe that agriculture workers should be considered front line and have priority availability to a COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, there should be a presumption of innocence for companies that are following recommended guidelines for COVID-19.
Looking ahead politically, I believe we will need to educate any new members of the executive branch of the federal government about the reasons why agriculture in Florida is vital to the nation. Issues revolving around trade and the environment are likely to take a priority.
I believe that FFVA is an effective organization that is well respected by many. In my opinion, we must continue to promote and defend Florida agriculture vigorously every day.
— Mick Lochridge for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.