Long & Scott Farms has been growing Zellwood Sweet Corn since 1963 and, during those 54 years, has expanded from 100 to 1,200 acres. Hank Scott (center) tells what it’s like to be a farmer. / Contributed

Hank Scott, president of Long and Scott Farms in Zellwood, answers some questions for Florida Food & Farm. The farm’s main product is Zellwood Sweet Corn. His children — Sonny and Haley — represent the fourth generation of the Scott family’s farming tradition, which began in 1963 with 100 acres. Long and Scott Farms now boasts 1,200 acres.

Q&A with Hank Scott of Long and Scott Farms

Question: What are the main challenges of being a farmer?
Answer: The delicate balancing act of being everything it takes to be a farmer, jack of all trades. Keeping up with all the changes in rules, regulations, customer wants and needs, as well as with our employees and our families. Trying to improve in all areas of business and production, and to grow more produce on less land on less margins, and ever-increasing cost of production, and still make a profit. To stay positive and upbeat when you see six weeks of hard work and investment destroyed by a one-hour weather event.

Q: When did farmers become the enemy (as many people seem to view them)?
A: Ever since pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers were considered evil, and dangerous, and not the useful tools that are needed to grow quality, healthy crops to feed folks. When farmers were portrayed as being too dumb to know how to be good stewards of their land and water, which are what is needed to sustain them in farming. Farmers are the first environmentalists.

Food safety is a perfect example. If we did not write down and record every little move and process that we, as farmers, have followed for years to keep our families, neighbors and employees safe, we were not food-safe by government standards. Farmers are surely not out to hurt the very customers that keep them in business.

I think the media has played a major role in helping make the farmer seem like the enemy. Just, for example, here locally in Central Florida, with the 1998 muck-farm buyout, it was (considered that) all the fault of the farmers that Lake Apopka was polluted. The media never mentioned the fact that local communities pumped raw sewage into the lake for years, that runoff from all the roadways contributed to the problem.

They never talked about the fact that Lake Apopka is a shallow muck-bottom lake and that it just takes a little wind to churn it up and keep it murky. That a lot of the muck in the lake was increased by killing, instead of harvesting, the hyacinth and the other invasive weeds that clogged up the lake, sending them to the bottom to add to the problem. Still, to this day, when you hear the media talking about Lake Apopka, they still blame only the farmers, who have been gone for 19 years and the lake is no cleaner or clearer.

Look at what they have done to the understanding of GMO (genetically modified organism) crops that have saved millions of starving folks in Third World countries, and only because they choose to report one side of the story. You never hear a positive article about the much higher yields because the GMO crops don’t require the pesticide sprays that aren’t available or too expensive to use in those countries. Also, that the Bt’s (Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural bacteria that sickens pests when they ingest it) added to some of the GMO crops is the same Bt pesticide use by organic growers. Oh, that is right: They have folks believing organic growers don’t use pesticides.

Q: Is Zellwood Sweet Corn really in danger of becoming extinct?
A: Well, we are the only Sweet Corn grower in Zellwood, so it all depends on our survival. We have trademarked the name for the marketing of the triple sweet and very tender corn we grow to distinguish it from the commodity “sweet corn.” Yes, we plan on being here as long as we can, but we also don’t have control of all the variables. We just have to do the best we can with the variables in our control.

Q: What is the future of Florida farming – statewide?
A: A really good question. We really need a level playing field with the imported produce that tends to keep prices very low. Because pricing is based on supply and demand, the imported produce is often the problem. The larger farms can control the pricing somewhat by not over-producing. We smaller guys will need to have some sort of a niche, or a value-added product, to be sustainable.

Q: Why was this such “a tough season, and a hell of a tough year,” and could you expand on this quote in your newsletter: “We have noticed the decrease in demand, and sales for fresh produce over the last few years, and there are many reasons we see this”?
A: It was a combination of issues. First, a warmer-than-normal growing season which caused an over-production of most produce. Then you have some larger growers that decided to grow more acres than they have sales for, and then sell for very cheap prices in order to move their products. You have buying brokers and chains that realize too much product is available, so they sit and wait for the prices to hit rock-bottom, knowing the prices paid will not cover production costs, but they are only interested in the lowest price.

Even though we have regular customers we think we can depend on, they will leave to go to the lowest pricing out there. These days, there’s not much concern with quality or loyalty, just low price. So in a year when you might experience low returns for a week or two, prices were below production costs — all winter season — for our cabbage and greens crops. In addition to all this, younger folks and working families are buying more ready-to-eat packaged veggies instead of fresh produce. Farmers can’t survive growing for the minimal contract prices offered by the fresh-cut processors; it is just money changing hands, without sustainable profits.

It is a shame, but in farming, it seems your best years are when some other growers get hurt and create a good market for us, or vice versa.

Q: What do you do during summer, now that your season has ended? Do you prepare for next season? How?
A: This is the time of year we work on planning for next season, next year, and how to avoid another year like the prior year. We plant cover crops to rest and rebuild the soil, and clean ditches. We analyze the year and try to improve on what was good, and cut back on the bad, try to find new techniques, new crop mixes. We visit our customers to see where we can improve, if they have changing needs and how we can complement them. We fix equipment, and problem areas as needed.

Long and Scott Farms is located at 26216 CR 448A in Mount Dora. For more information, visit the farm online or call (352) 383-6900.