Alan Jones: ‘Protect the environment, provide safe local food’

Dec 01, 17 Alan Jones: ‘Protect the environment, provide safe local food’

By Mick Lochridge

Alan Jones knows hard work pays off.  From a high school teenager helping on his family’s farm to running a successful agriculture operation today, he has cultivated a work ethic that has earned high praise from his industry.

Recognized for his innovative farming practices to protect Florida’s natural resources, Jones in September joined the 40-member board of directors for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, whose members represent the vast majority of fresh fruit and vegetable production the state.

“The first year I’ll sit back and watch and see how things work,” he said of his board involvement. “Then I’ll see how I can make a positive impact. I like to talk about solutions, not just about problems.”

That kind of approach to issues has resulted in an ever-expanding business for Jones, his wife, Leslie, and Jones Potato Farm in Parrish in Manatee County. There they harvest about 50 million pounds of potatoes, for chipping and table stock, and 200,000 bushels of green beans annually on more than 3,000 acres. Last year, he built a packinghouse onsite for the beans. In addition, his company owns 1,200 acres of citrus in Hendry and Lee counties. The farm also has about 200 beef cattle.

“My fiduciary responsibility is to do what is good for me as a farmer and what is good for the consumer — to deliver the highest-quality product at the least cost,” said the 50-year-old company president and CEO.

Jones said he follows Best Management Practices “to use the least amount of water, pesticides and fertilizer to produce the highest-quality, safe beans and potatoes.”

His efficient farming methods include GPS technology to apply a precise amount of fertilizer in a precise location. To conserve water, he combines a furrow ditch system with watering pivots. Float wells let him gauge irrigation based on the water table.

As a testament to his concern for the environment, the farm has received several awards:

Alan Jones

Alan Jones

• The 2017 Grower Achievement Award from American Vegetable Grower magazine, in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association, for the farm’s commitment to sustainable practices and community involvement, including supplying homeless shelters with fresh produce, farm-to-school movement/// and providing vegetables to local areas where fresh produce is not easily available.

• The 2016 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for using innovative farming techniques that protect and conserve the state’s natural resources.

• The 2013 4R Advocate Award from the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program for the farm’s goals to optimize use of fertilizer and improve water quality. Developed by fertilizer and plant nutrition groups, the program stands for “the right source and the right rate at the right time, in the right place.”

Yet owning his own farm was a distant star to a young Alan Jones, who in high school was climbing out of bed before dawn twice a week to deliver bags of greens from his family’s farm to Publix stores in St. Augustine.

“I was the only kid waking up at 3 a.m. to go to work,” Jones recalled about his job in the ’80s. “But that taught me how to make money.”

That produce was from Jones Brothers Farm, owned by his father and uncle. A longtime member of FFVA, the farm was primarily a truck farming operation that also produced potatoes, onions and watermelons.

“Dad taught me that there’s hard work in agriculture and farming, but there’s money, too,” Jones said. “They go hand in hand.”

In 1986 his father moved to Manatee County to start a new farm. At the time, the younger Jones was studying food and resource economics at the University of Florida and helping out on the farm when he could. He eventually would join his father full-time. Around 2000, Jones took over the farm and bought out his dad. Since then, the business has grown from 450 acres to more than 4,000 with 25 employees.

“I chose to invest my money in land when everybody else was buying dot-coms,” he said.

Along with growing a business, Alan and Leslie, whom he met at UF, also are raising a family. Their daughter, Madeline, is a junior studying nursing at Georgia Southern University; their son Harrison is a high school senior who plans to study agriculture in college; and son Carson is a high school sophomore. The family lives in Sarasota, less than 30 minutes from the farm.

When he’s not farming, Jones likes to go saltwater fishing and play golf. And living on Florida’s southwest coast, he’s in the perfect place to enjoy both.

It’s also an area bustling with new commercial and residential development heading east along U.S. Highway 301 toward the unincorporated Parrish. That could mean something new for Jones, who envisions a day when he may consider development on some of his farmland. “I enjoy long-range planning,” he said.

But until that day, he remains committed to his twin priorities:  “Protect our natural resources and provide a safe, local food source.”

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