October 1, 2014

Agriculture: Growing Pains- Southeast- Feb. 2004

Pat Dunnigan | 2/1/2004
A shrinking market, declining prices and increasing pressure to develop agricultural land has the "Grapefruit Capital of the World" rethinking its future in smaller terms. Much smaller.

Researchers at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce are hoping to lay the foundation for St. Lucie County to add grapes to its agricultural mix, perhaps even a winery.

One reason it might work, according to the Florida Grape Growers' Association: Florida's 14 wineries have to import 400 to 500 tons of grapes a year to meet their production needs, says President Bob Paulish. And Florida grape growers say they can sell every grape they can grow.

One reason it might not: Bugs. South Florida has a year-round population of damaging insects, requiring more intense pest control efforts. Humidity and salt might also be problems.

But there is one variety of grape that is native to the Southeast. It's the hearty muscadine, which produces a slightly sweet wine in both red and white.

Ed Stover, a University of Florida researcher, has begun a project on two acres in Fort Pierce to gauge the productivity of 10 to 12 varieties of muscadine and bunch grapes for wine and table. In about a year, his team expects to begin planting cuttings.

When his research is concluded, the results will be available to anyone who is interested. Stover thinks the research might persuade some growers to consider converting grapefruit groves to grape vines. But he doesn't expect a wholesale transition. "We're just looking at grapes as one of many ways to maintain the vitality" of the county's agricultural economy, Stover says. "What is not known is what productivity can be."

The Florida Department of Agriculture is providing $5,000 in funding, and the University of Florida and Florida A&M University's Center for Cooperative Agriculture are adding $4,000.

St. Lucie County economic development manager Larry Daum says a niche for grapes would also help the county even out its employment because grapes are harvested in the summer, when the county's unemployment rate jumps as much as 4%.

Paulish says Florida's grape industry, which includes less than 1,000 acres of grapes and produces about 300,000 bottles of wine a year, will never be able to compete on a grand scale because state law doesn't allow wineries to directly export their product. But, he says, industry data show that Florida ranks second in the nation for wine consumption, so there's still plenty of room to grow.


IN THE NEWS

Boca Raton -- The landmark Mizner Park office, retail and apartment development is to be sold to Columbia, Md.-based Rouse & Co. and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for $137 million.

1st United Bank plans to purchase the First Western Bank of Cooper City for $6.6 million.

Broward County -- The county's system for ensuring that home blueprints meet county hurricane standards needs improvement, two consultants who reviewed blueprints have concluded. The recommendations mirror the findings of a 2002 Miami Herald investigation that found the county's reliance on home designers' assurances that standards were met left big gaps in compliance.

After more than 10 years of debate, county commissioners have voted to approve a controversial plan to extend the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's south runway, though not as far as originally planned. The scaled back version, along with the development of new flight paths and some caps on new gates at the airport, is intended to help appease neighbors opposed to the project.

Cooper City -- A proposal to allow the Broward Sheriff's Office to absorb the city's police and fire departments has met with opposition from some residents who like the personal service provided by local police. City officials say the move would save the city at least $1.5 million a year.

Coral Springs -- State officials have revoked the license of International Adoption Resources amid an investigation into the company's connections to a suspected child smuggler.

Delray Beach -- City commissioners have scaled back their contract with Jacksonville-based Langston Associates after learning they'd paid more in fees over three years than the additional grant money brought in by the firm, which writes grant applications.

Fort Lauderdale -- The city is taking steps to trim back an already austere budget with $12 million in budget cuts. A budget plan approved in December calls for 86 layoffs and the elimination of 100 jobs throughout the city.

Developer Donald Trump reportedly has entered into a deal to build a hotel and condo tower on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Martin County -- County commissioners may ask voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund the purchase of property and development rights to preserve agricultural land from development.

Pembroke Pines -- Under the terms of a tentative settlement over a 2001 lawsuit alleging Hollywood overcharged Pembroke Pines for wastewater disposal, Hollywood will pay $3.1 million and waive $295,000 in outstanding payment obligations.

Pompano Beach -- Bulletproof vest maker Point Blank Body Armor is opening its third production facility in Broward County.

Port St. Lucie -- City officials are moving forward with plans to annex 408 acres for the construction of a sewage treatment plant despite challenges by nearby residents.

Riviera Beach -- Broward developer Michael Swerdlow will partner with two local developers to build a $180-million condominium, marina and restaurant complex to anchor the city's redevelopment plan.

West Palm Beach -- The city gave preliminary approval to a plan that would require downtown nightclub owners to pay a share of police overtime costs.

The county is still trying to put together a deal to bring a hotel to the recently opened $83-million convention center. County administrator Bob Weisman wants to select a developer this month.

Tags: Southeast

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