by REBEKAH PIERCE
As the Florida strawberry season is in full swing, the industry stands poised for the future.
It’s already been a standout season, with growers citing exceptional flavor and quality. Now, the season is about to get even sweeter, as Jake Raburn has been re-elected as president of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.
Raburn has been involved in the strawberry industry for 15 years, with his entire career thus far spent at Hinton Farms. This small family farm, started by his wife’s grandparents in the early 1950s, has grown volumes in the past decade along with Florida’s strawberry industry.
It’s his legacy at Hinton Farms that Raburn is most proud of, and it’s what drives him to fight for other Florida strawberry growers through his work with the association.
“We fight for growers in whatever way we can,” he says.
The Florida Strawberry Growers Association represents approximately 70 small family farms throughout the state. This year, the association will continue to advocate for growers, in particular as they relate to issues like trade and disease.
“Every year, we deal with different challenges,” says Raburn. “This year isn’t any different.”
The 2023-2024 season has brought with it an onslaught of wet weather, which tends to increase disease rates, but Florida growers are reporting strong demand.
According to Raburn, the state’s strawberry industry is now the biggest it’s ever been, despite pressure from urban growth.
“So many people think that agriculture is getting pushed out, but really, what we’ve seen in the strawberry industry is a lot of growth.” In fact, strawberries are now Florida’s number one commodity, producing about 15% of the country’s crop and almost all of the berries grown during the winter.
“That says a lot about the future of the industry,” remarks Raburn. “But also about the people that grow the crop.”
Raburn and the rest of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association are excited by this season’s progress and especially by the release of two new strawberry varieties on the horizon. Ultimately, it’s all about forward progress: “We’re just excited that strawberries are thriving,” says Raburn.
As for any other challenges, Raburn isn’t worried. After all, Florida strawberry growers, like the berry itself, “are a resilient bunch.”