Growth Opportunities in Florida Agriculture
Florida growers and ranchers say market conditions are better but still off the peak.
“Sweet corn’s been very good. I serve as president of the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange, which consists of 23 growers in the Palm Beach County area. Last year, we introduced Sunshine Sweet. It’s a brand that meets the criteria for USDA fancy grade. We wanted to ship a better, higher quality product that would get to the end user. The price has been good. The whole country took to the brand. We had the best shipping years we ever had. Green bean yields and price for the most part have been moderate.
Labor is a large issue. We just need to have a sustainable workforce. The current program that’s out there doesn’t work for us. You can’t get all the labor you need through H-2A.”
While Florida tomato farmers continue their battle with foreign imports, researchers continue work in labs and test plots on making a better Florida tomato. John “Jay” Scott, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor, saw the Tasti-Lee tomato that his team developed find commercial success for its taste, color and high level of antioxidant lycopene last year after Publix started selling it. One Florida grower now exports it to Singapore. Scott’s at work on improving it as well as continuing to breed for disease-resistance in it and other tomato strains. Advances in science are improving tomato research and development. “It’s really exciting,” says Scott, but, “it’s still a lot of work.”
In September, the U.S. Department of Commerce sided with Florida tomato growers and ended a 16-year trade pact with Mexico. The move allows U.S. growers to seek duties on Mexican tomatoes. Mexico exported more than $2 billion worth of tomatoes last year.
Top Field Crops
Florida field crops ranked by value
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Pushing the Limits
Peaches — first brought to Florida centuries ago by Spanish colonists — have an on-again, off-again history in Florida because of their need for chilly weather — a certain number of “chill hours” below 45 degrees. Fifty years ago, University of Florida scientists engineered a Florida peach tree that needed only a third of the 600 to 800 “chill hours” needed by other varieties, and Florida had a prosperous peach industry in the northern part of the state until freezes in the 1980s decimated it.
Now, as UF keeps breeding down the number of “chill hours” the trees need, a new peach industry has emerged, spanning 1,200 acres from Fort Pierce to Orlando. Growers such as Edenbelle Grove use peaches to diversify their operations; Edenbelle grows 50 acres of peaches on its 2,000-acre citrus operation in eastern Charlotte County
Jose X. Chaparro, the latest scientist to lead UF’s stone fruit program, is working on peach trees that can thrive on as few as 50 to 150 “chill hours.” UF also is working on low-chill apricots and seedless, early ripening, cold-hardy tangerines.
To be economically successful, Florida peaches must be ready for the market after March, when South American imports run out and before June, when California, Georgia and South Carolina peaches flood the market. For growers who can deliver in that window, however, “we kind of own the whole market,” says Edenbelle Grove manager Ralph Chamberlain. Florida peaches, unlike those in other states, are tree ripened, hold their shape and have the ideal sweetness and moisture content to leave juice running down your chin. Says Chamberlain, “It won’t be the biggest peach in the world, but it will be the best peach you ever ate.”