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• In 1998, the state told Billy Long and David Hill to shut it all down. Seven years later, Long was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame, and continued farming and partnered on another farm at Stuart, Fla. Hill moved on and looked for something different in agriculture, yet with profit potential.
• Now, Hill farms with his 25-year-old son, Michael, on high sandy ground outside Clermont, surrounded by orange trees. You won’t find citrus on their place, though — when they moved here and left everything behind in Zellwood they put their money into landscaping trees.
BLUEBERRIES REQUIRED a learning curve for Michael Hill, who farms with his father, David, a few miles outside Clermont, Fla.
Expects quick change
He expects the blueberry industry itself to change relatively quickly, as well.
“I think within five yearsthe Florida industry will be close to machine harvesting of the blueberry crop,” he says. “To do that, we’re going to have to develop varieties with strong skin. We’re still a few years away from a good machine harvestable variety.
“We just planted ours and they’re in for 10 years. They won’t get into full production until the third or fourth year. It would be hard to pull them out for another variety because we have a lot of front-end money in them, and there’d be all that lost time.”
Michael seems surprised when asked why he came back here to farm rather than to pursuing a corporate position after college graduation.
“This is what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’m happy here. Absolutely. Besides, working in an office all day would drive me stir-crazy. I put in the irrigation pipe, I dug the trenches, I worked with the bushes in the greenhouse, and then planted them. Now look at them — there’s no better feeling than to look back at what you’ve done and see that it worked.”
His father is glad Michael made that decision.
“He wanted to be in farming, and I certainly wanted to farm with him. Everything was just right for him to come back,” David says.
“It’s a problem when a farmer has nobody in the family to take over the farm. It’s a worse problem when a child wants to come back to the farm and there’s nothing for him to do. We had plenty here for Michael to do.”