By Brad Stager
Citrus groves and cattle pastures may be the first things that come to mind when thinking of Florida agriculture, but the accomplishments of students from two Hillsborough County Florida FFA Association (formerly Future Farmers of America) chapters highlight the important role of fish farming, known as aquaculture, to the state’s economy.
Randall Middle School and Durant High School students recently competed in a statewide FFA career development event that demonstrated the wide breadth of skills involved in raising fish for commercial purposes.
The competition was held in April at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin.
Brittany Andrews is an agriculture advisor at Randall Middle School and she expressed pride in her students’ achievement of taking second place in the middle school competition.
“Our team’s success was based on the dedication of our amazing Randall students. They worked and practiced incredibly hard. They also had a great time going to a local fish farm to talk to the owner and learning by seeing real-world Florida aquaculture industry,” she said.
Andrews cited the Randall team’s presentation of how fish farmers can prepare for a natural disaster as a highlight of their experience.
The FFA team from Durant High School in Plant City garnered first place in the senior high school division.
Among the activities, the teams of students were required to demonstrate knowledge of different aquatic species by correctly identifying them as well as parts of their structures and systems.
Florida’s aquaculture industry generates about $100 million in sales annually, according to the UF/IFAS website. Aquaculture products include fish, plants, reptiles, crustaceans and more. About half of the sales are related to tropical fish, with Florida supplying 95 percent of the total raised and sold in the United States.
According to Deborah Pouder, coordinator of research programs and services at the UF/IFAS Ruskin center, the students also learn how to use technology to monitor aquatic crops as well as the chemistry involved in raising them in water. She added that the goal of the competition is not intended so much to provide a pipeline of entry level workers to the industry, but to develop abilities within the individual students.
“It teaches them a lot of different skills in life and it teaches them to become an educated consumer,” said Pouder.