2007 Industry Outlook
Small farmers hope to cash in on interest in buying local.
Keep tariffs on imported produce.
Aggressive spending on citrus greening and canker research to fight the diseases that threaten to destroy the industry in Florida.
At Palmetto Creek Farms in Highlands County, the hogs don't eat slop, they don't live in crates and they nurse their piglets under big shade trees. "Yes, the pigs are happy, but the farmer's happy too," says owner Jim Woods. "It's a nice way of life."
But it's not, generally, the way to make a living producing pork, which has become all but impossible in Florida between urbanization, the disappearance of USDA-certified slaughterhouses and industrialization. Some 98% of the bacon and chops sold in Florida these days comes from out-of-state corporate hog farms, says Frankie Hall of the Florida Farm Bureau.
A small group of Florida and Georgia hog farmers, including Woods, is trying to change that. Their Madison Pork cooperative wants to tap two fast-growing consumer trends: Eating locally and eating all natural.
A renaissance of farmers markets in cities across Florida -- there are now more than 70 weekly markets statewide -- shows growing demand for local produce and meat. Shortening the time and distance between farm and dinner table saves the fuel it takes to ship lettuce from California or pork from Iowa. Fresher food also has more nutrient value, and consumers, says Hall, "feel good about supporting local farmers."
Pork promotion: Jim Woods and other hog farmers have formed the Madison Pork cooperative to promote local farmers. To check out Woods' local pork offerings, go to bestpork.us.
This year, watch for more new farmers markets opening around the state. You'll also see more locally produced meats and produce on fine-restaurant menus and on the shelves of mainstream supermakets, including Sweetbay.
The Madison Pork cooperative is one of several efforts by the University of Florida's IFAS Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises' Program to try to help farmers stay in business and preserve Florida's agricultural heritage.
"The midsized farmer is gone, and we now have the big guys and the small guys," says IFAS extension agent Bob Hochmuth.
Increasing demand for local food could help the small guys, but infrastructure and other economy-of-scale issues remain a challenge. Madison Pork is pooling resources for consumer surveys, marketing and meat processing at a USDA-certified facility in south Georgia.