Eric Smith: “Where Palm and Pine are Blowing…”

May 4, 2023


“…where southern seas are flowing,” continues the verse from the University of Florida's Alma Mater song. Normally sung in unison by the crowd at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during postgame celebrations, it is a subtle reminder of the natural environs here in our Sunshine State, the backdrop for the school, itself, “thy lovely vine clad halls,” as the song continues.

Spring in Florida is often tumultuous due to the varying severity of cold fronts. One constant is usually the lack of humidity and rainfall. April and May are, essentially, the peak months of our dry season. As such, this is normally the time we’re begging for rain to wash away pollen (for allergy sufferers such as myself), to refill lakes, and breathe new life into landscapes and nursery crops. (Side note: the color response seen in an outdoor crop after a good rain is much better than that of our prized, but higher pH aquifer well water.) Then, of course, in June, “the pattern,” as I call it, begins to set in where we get all the rain and then some for the next four months.

Unfortunately for many folks in south Florida, the heavy summer rains came early - about a month's worth in a matter of a few days. Reports varied, but rainfall totals in Broward County were above 20 inches over a few days, which is simply amazing, albeit disastrous in many ways. Despite seemingly record rainfall and 50 mph winds, FNGLA’s inaugural Palm Quest Conference in Ft. Lauderdale was a resounding success! The event was held in partnership with UF/IFAS. And, considering the worst of the weather occurred during the day one, Indoor portion of the two-day event, the timing worked in our favor. Although much of UF/IFAS Research and Education Center facility had standing water surrounding the buildings, day two's demonstration and education sites were packed with people from every corner of our industry. The depth and breadth of education provided was certainly worth braving the elements for: John Dransfield of Royal Botanical Gardens' history of palm exploration worldwide talk; Architect Craig Reynolds' eye-popping tropical landscape projects; UF/IFAS researchers Brian Bahder and Braham Dhillon’s new insights into palm disease management; and Steve Griffin (Griffin Trees), Russel Adams (CONSOR, LLC) and John Conroy’s (Fish Branch Tree Farm) field demos for grades & standards -- plus many more. And, let’s not forget the tasty swamp cabbage and straw-in-the-coconut beverages provided! A big 'Thank You' to the sponsors and participants who helped make this inaugural event one to remember.

A few hours north, just west of the largest Sand Pine forest in the world (Ocala National Forest), the weather was much drier, but the wind was still a blowin’ as we teed up for the FNGLA/SHARE Golf Tournament at Candler Hills Golf Course in near Ocala. Directly funding UF research in environmental horticulture, which in turn directly benefits our FNGLA member businesses, this event was by all accounts a success. The course, itself, was in fantastic shape, and a huge turnout helped propel the event to record revenue for the FNGLA Endowed Research Fund at SHARE. More $20,000 was raised! The wind through the pines helped carry the sounds of player celebration after a well placed shot, or agony in the case of Phillip Hisey’s (Gruber-McNeill Contracting) oh-so-close two-inch leave on the $50,000 Hole In One #17! While Team BioSafe (Caleb VanWingerden, SunBlest Gardens; A.J. Lambert, Container Centralen; FNGLA CEO Tal Coley, and I) had our moments, it was Zach Sweat and Team Syngenta (Mark Brazinski, Tyler Greene and Kevin Wasilewski) who brought home the big trophy. A big 'congratulations' to you fellas! Thank you to all the participants and sponsors in this year’s event - your time and resources are without a doubt making an impact on our industry’s research needs!

Lastly - As I write this there are several key pieces of legislation being debated in Tallahassee that will no doubt impact our FNGLA member businesses. Some very positively, others perhaps not so much, but we will have to see how things settle after all the horses are traded. With all signs pointing to a Presidential run by Governor DeSantis, we will surely see things get more contentious. Rest assured FNGLA stands ready to assist our membership with navigating new legislation- which ever way the wind blows…





Eric Smith
FNGLA 2023-24 President

P.S. - Special thanks to FNGLA staff members Linda Reindl, Billy Deal and Sandra Pellerin for making Palm Quest Conference a success. And, a big show of recognition and appreciation goes to the FNGLA/SHARE Golf Tournament committee members Ed Bravo, Phil Buck, Mike Agate, Sarah Spatola, Matt Antos, Peter Goodwin, and FNGLA staff Linda Adams for making that event so successful!

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