Agriculture program benefits veterans and farmers

Army veteran Jeremy Sutliff is on a new mission.

He's checking tomato plants for disease. Working outdoors in the heat doesn't bother him. In fact, you may catch him humming while he works.

"I find it very therapeutic when I get out here get out in my garden lose track of everything," said Sutliff.

He is in training for farm work through the Veterans Florida Agriculture Program.

"Give veterans opportunities to learn about agriculture and to learn about the different employment opportunities in agriculture", said Gary Vallad, an associate professor with the program through the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Ruskin.

"It's a nine-month paid internship and the first six months are spent at the University of Florida Institute and Agriculture Science. It's a natural use of their military skills," explained Amy Entress.

"You're looking at individuals who are used to being outdoors they're extremely intelligent, they're technologically savvy and they're looking for opportunities where they can actually get their hands on something and kind of give back to the community, so I think agriculture offers all those opportunities to them", said Vallad.

The veterans, in turn, help Florida farmers.

"We have a very aging workforce, so the neat thing is you have a lot of veterans here in Florida who are looking for jobs  and opportunities and so a lot of them aren't familiar with what those opportunities are in agriculture, and so this kind of helps bring new people into agriculture that might not have even considered a career in agriculture to begin with," said Vallad.

"It helps the farming industry so much. It brings in more money to the farmers, the communities and a lot of the local people," said Sutliff.

Veterans have been getting jobs thanks to this program.

"It's been fantastic. We have 100% success rate with our veterans who complete the program getting a position with a local agri-business or farm or on  a ranch," said Entress. "We've gotten excellent feedback they're very appreciative of veterans coming to them who already have some knowledge and experience working in agriculture."

Farmers are finding help outside of their families. Vallad sais many of them report a generational gap, with their children not wanting to continue the family farming traditions.

Sutliff, meanwhile, is reaping the benefits of serving his country in a new way.

"You're bringing these plants to life that's you that's 100% and it makes me proud when I do something like that," said Sutliff.

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