Monday Meeting with Daniel Cavazos, director of Rice Farming for Florida Crystals

Daniel Cavazos, 31, was born in Pahokee and raised in Belle Glade. He just finished his first season as director of Rice Farming with Florida Crystals Corp., based in West Palm Beach.

“I am responsible for 20,000 acres of rice farming in rotation with sugarcane at Florida Crystals. My duties include but are not limited to leading a very talented group of people in performing land preparation, planting, irrigation, crop protection and harvesting of rice. All of these operations require precise timing and keeping within budget,” Cavazos said.

Rice is an important food grown all over the world, but in the Everglades Agricultural Area in western Palm Beach County, it’s also valued as a rotation crop with sugar cane and sweet corn. Growing rice restores the soil, removes pests and provides a habitat for many species of native wildlife, especially wading birds.

The rice plants, resembling a sea of verdant grass, grown in about two inches of water. It’s a low-input crop that doesn’t require fertilizer, and for the most part, weeds are controlled by flooding the rice farm.

Florida Crystals is the state’s largest rice grower and owns Florida’s only rice mill. Planting begins in March and runs through June. Harvesting begins in July and ends in early November.

Cavazos started working for R.C. Hatton in Pahokee at its farm and packinghouse during his high school years at Glades Day School.

After high school he worked at R.C. Hatton full time doing such tasks as land preparation, planting and spraying. After a couple of years, he was transferred to the packinghouse, but realized that business wasn’t for him.

Cavazos moved to Veg Pro International in Belle Glade where as farm manager he oversaw the growing of specialty lettuces, spinach, arugula, carrots and onions and rice. In 2018 he was hired by Florida Crystals.

“I love my job, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else but farming,” Cavazos said.

Name: Daniel Cavazos

Title: Director of Rice Farming, Florida Crystals Corp.

What you like most about your job: I have and extreme passion for agriculture, I love the fast-paced environment and enjoy traveling around the farms scouting my crops. I also enjoy working with people, I enjoy interacting with my team, sharing ideas in order to optimize our operations. No day is the same out here, every day brings its challenges and I enjoy the process.

Hometown and where you live now: I grew up in Belle Glade and now live in Wellington.

Family: Married to my lovely wife Maria and we have two beautiful kids, Aislynn, 9, and Daniel Jr., 6.

Education: Graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

About your company: 2,000 employees in South Florida. Headquartered in West Palm Beach. Founded in Palm Beach County in 1960.

First paying job and what you learned from it: My mother has been a farm labor contractor for as long as I can remember. During my freshman year in high school she volunteered me to work on the farm for Spring Break. According to her, she wanted to teach me a lesson, field work was not easy and she wanted better for me. That week was a tough one, but I survived. I enjoyed every second of it, especially the $300 check I earned at the end of the week. She wanted me to stay in school and become someone in life. For me it was a rite of passage. That week I knew I wanted to be a farmer.

First break in business: Before coming to work at Florida Crystals, I worked for Veg Pro International. It is a Canadian company that farms specialty lettuces, onions, and carrots in Canada during the summer and in Florida during the winter months. They entrusted a young 20 year old wide-eyed kid with a complex and challenging crop. Obviously, I had plenty of support staff but ultimately became the farm manager and learned so much about all aspects of specialty crop farming. I spent almost 10 years there.

How your business has changed: Farming is becoming more technology driven. Big data, precision Ag, and sustainable farming practices are at the forefront of today’s farming culture. New technology is changing the game, the way we did things just 10 years ago seems archaic to the way we do things now. Everything used to be paper and pencil, now I can access everything I need using an app on my smartphone.

What are some of the biggest challenges? Mother Nature is by far is our biggest challenge. Unfortunately, we cannot control what weather does, we can only anticipate, plan, prepare, and execute to the best of our ability. It’s a constant battle, but it keeps us humble and on our toes.

Best business book (or any leadership book) that you have read: I’m a big fan of Colin Powell, I’ve read all his biographies and leadership books written by him or about him. If I had to pick my favorite it would be “The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell” by Oren Harari.

Best piece of business advice you have received: Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.

What you tell young people about your business: That if they want to be challenged every minute of every day and they enjoy the freedom of being outdoors producing the food that feeds America, and they have a genuine passion for agriculture, then we want them on our team.

Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? What separates successful people from non-successful people is the ability to be accountable and owning up to your mistakes. I firmly believe that to be a great leader you have to learn from your failures.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? As a county we keep growing in population. I see a lot of opportunity for growth from an economic standpoint. Agriculture is a major driver in our county’s economy. Palm Beach County is one of the largest ag counties in the country. We as farmers need to continue to educate the public of our role in this county. Continuing to be stewards of the land will allow for Palm Beach County to grow and prosper for generations to come.

Power lunch spot: My wife is an excellent cook and I enjoy eating lunch at any of our satellite farm offices. But normally I eat lunch in my truck in the middle of one of our many farms.

Where would we find you when you are not at the office? Riding our farms scouting our crops and spending time with our hard-working farmers.

Favorite smartphone app: It’s a tie between our company data collector app or storm radar.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Passion, and the ability to anticipate. I also look for candidates that are curious and have lots of questions. These traits confirm to me that candidates have a genuine interest in learning and are easily coachable.

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