Young Florida Rancher Sees Opportunity in Produce

Cameron CatoJames Cameron Cato grew up in a Central Florida ranching family, loving the feeling of being out in the field and working with the animals. This eighth-generation Floridian is so passionate about cattle ranching that he envisioned making that his career. “I grew up cowboying my whole life, and I don’t ever see getting out of that completely,” he says.

But Cameron says that Center for Growing Talent by PMA’s Career Pathways program opened his eyes to another sector of agriculture: fruits and vegetables. Cameron attended the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s 2017 conference through Career Pathways, where he got to spend three days exploring the industry “hands-on” and networking with top business leaders. He attended with a group of fellow students from Warner University in Lake Wales, FL; on the trip back to campus, they stopped for tours of Blue Sky Farms, a major grower of potatoes and other produce in Florida’s “potato capital,” and the Florida location of L&M Farms, a grower/shipper/processor.

Career Pathways led Cameron to recognize the connection between beef cattle and produce. “Before [Career Pathways], I was strictly involved in cattle where I’m from,” he says. (In fact, Cameron’s hobby is making nylon and buckskin whips for cattlemen in Florida and across the country; he’s a state champion whip cracker, too.)

“I was aware of all the other segments of Florida agriculture,” he continues, “but I didn’t have a real understanding of all they do for our state economically and all the food they produce. But through the program, not only do I have a new respect for the fruit and vegetable industry, but also a real interest in it. A lot of companies are diversified, and they have cattle along with fruits and vegetables. When you’re diversified, you have options—you have extra irons in the fire.”

Currently a junior at Warner, Cameron intends to connect the dots between cattle and produce not just in theory, but in practice, thanks to an invitation from A. Duda & Sons, which raises citrus, cattle, sugarcane and sod, to do his capstone internship before he graduates. He respects the company’s emphasis on faith and family, and he expects to learn much from its diversified operation. From there, he’s considering grad school to further his knowledge of the ag industry. What’s on the long horizon for Cameron? Someday, he says, “I’d love to manage a commercial cow/calf operation and be involved with citrus and sugarcane as well.”

Wherever he lands, Cameron appreciates how much he’s gained from participating in Career Pathways. “The program opened up my eyes to other opportunities so I don’t limit myself,” he says. “I learned how to converse with people who are involved in other parts of the ag industry. The relationships I’ve built have been priceless and will really benefit me in my future.”