Lucy Terrill, CPA, CGMA, The Mosaic Company
The Leadership Tampa Class of 2015 spent Port and Agriculture Day learning about the interconnected life cycles of four important economic drivers in Tampa Bay: phosphate fertilizer, Port Tampa Bay, agricultural science, and farming. Though the day started with an unprecedented fog event that even Ohio State couldn’t buy its way out of, it ended with delicious strawberry shortcake enjoyed in the Florida sunshine.
One of the oldest industries in Central Florida and dating back to the discovery of mineral deposits in the 1880s is phosphate fertilizer production. The industry continues to be an enormous economic engine not only for the central Florida producer of phosphate fertilizer, The Mosaic Company, but also for the supporting businesses such as Port Tampa Bay where the fertilizer is exported both domestically up the Mississippi River to the farmers in America’s heartland, as well as to customers overseas.
Port Tampa Bay was our first stop where we heard about the port’s history, current impact, and future opportunities from President and CEO Paul Anderson, and John Thorington, VP of Government Affairs & Board Coordination. In addition to fertilizer, which comprises two-thirds of the port’s $15.1 billion impact and half of the port’s 80,000 jobs, the port has a variety of other activities including:
- Cargo shipping such as automobiles and consumer goods
- Shipyard activities (marine repairs and maintenance)
We were very fortunate that the fog lifted enough to allow for a waterside tour of the port facilities via the Florida Aquarium’s Bay Spirit II. From the water, we saw the ConAgra grain bins used to produce flour in downtown Tampa, the limestone piles imported from Mexico for roadways, the containers used to bring consumer goods into the market, the Amalie Oil facility and much more.
Once back landside, we boarded buses to Riverview to view Mosaic’s fertilizer production facility and Coastal Education Center. Mosaic’s Coastal Education Center sits right on Tampa Bay and was developed to educate Hillsborough County fourth graders on the bay’s ecology in line with their science curriculum. There, Mosaic’s employee volunteers lead students in engaging, hands-on learning experiences such as fishing with seine nets, testing water samples, bird watching, utilizing a microscope, and my personal favorite – hunting for fiddler crabs! We also picked up some key fourth grade science knowledge including that horseshoe crabs are actually arachnids (who knew?).
Back on the bus, we traveled past farms and cattle fields to the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. There we heard about Hillsborough County’s second largest industry, agriculture (first is tourism) from Center Director Dr. Jack Rechcigl and Simon Bollin from Hillsborough County’s Agriculture Industry Development Department. Did you know that the Tasti-Lee tomatoes that we love from Publix were “born” at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center?
Our visit to the center concluded with tours of the facilities where we met scientists conducting various studies including development of new varieties of strawberries (I understand the grape-strawberry hybrid tastes like fruit snacks), plant disease diagnosis and fertilizer research.
One last trip on the bus brought us to our final stop of the day which was a real treat… strawberry shortcakes at Goodson Farms!
Port Tampa Bay and Agriculture Day provided insight into aspects of Hillsborough County that few ever see or consider but that have enormous economic impacts both in the Tampa Bay area and far beyond.