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November 28, 2015


Growth Opportunities in Florida Agriculture

Florida growers and ranchers say market conditions are better but still off the peak.

Mike Vogel | 11/1/2012


Woody Larson
Owner / Dixie Ranch
President / Florida Cattlemen’s Association

“Florida is really a significant cattle state. We produce almost a million head of feeder calves each year that normally leave the state of Florida and go to feed lots in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska to be fattened. A large part of their diet is corn. There’s a shortage of cattle, and prices have been very good this year. It’s still a good value for protein. As developing countries get a taste of beef from the United States, the demand for meat or exports of beef have grown consistently over the last four or five years.

As this drought has got a grip on the U.S. corn production, the price of our feeder calves has dropped significantly, like 20% to 25%, or about $200 a head.”


Dairy Farming

International Links

Each year Don Bennink’s North Florida Holsteins west of Gainesville hosts eight to 10 international trainees who come to learn large dairy herd management as part of the Global Cow program. American dairy farms are larger, more progressive and higher in production and efficiency than in many other countries.

Category Amount Change 2010-11
Dairy Cows 119,000 +4.3%
Milk 2.27 billion lbs. +6.6%
Beef Cattle 940,000 +1.5%
Chickens 10.1 million +2.5%
Eggs $181 million +19.9%
Broilers $179 million +17.8%
Receipts from Cattle and Calves $488 million -2.2%
Source: USDA



Being Squeezed

Ken Patterson wanted a change from his father’s marina business, so 27 years ago he became a blueberry farmer. With 350 acres in Hawthorne, east of Gainesville, his Island Grove is one of the largest blueberry farms in Florida, a state that’s seen growth in blueberry acreage nearly triple thanks to a profitable niche from mid-March to mid-May.

It’s a niche under pressure. Blueberry acreage nationally has grown in recent years at an annualized rate of 12%. But acreage has grown in the West at 52% and in South America at 73%. Florida’s market window is narrow: South American blueberries stay on the market to April, and Georgia and California jump in toward the end of April. “Everybody’s gunning for us,” says Patterson. “They want April. I think the country with the best chance is Mexico.”

Florida’s crop is almost entirely for the fresh fruit market. Patterson, Island Grove’s managing partner, has set aside 90 of his acres for organic blueberries. He also has a nursery that produces a million plants for sale each year. He works with the University of Florida to test experimental varieties; growth in Florida is owed to UF-developed varieties. He’s encouraged by UF’s progress on plants that can be picked by machine. Labor costs about $1 per pound to handpick blueberries, while mechanical picking would cost 15 cents per pound. Patterson aims to replace all of his plants over the next several years with such labor-saving plants. “That’s the future,” Patterson says.

Florida blueberry farmers are getting more per acre.

Year Acres Harvested Yield Per Acre (Pounds)
2000 1,400 2,000
2005 2,500 2,080
2009 3,200 4,220
2010 3,500 4,690
2011* 3,800 5,630

Tags: Agriculture

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