2008 Industry Outlook
Thirsty: The water shortage is stunting growth for farmers.
Tomato farm in Palmetto [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
The story of agriculture in 2008 will be written by the evolution of the worst drought to hit the Southeast since record-keeping began in 1895. The drought already has reduced agricultural production throughout the region, with Florida commodities sales falling from $7.7 billion in 2006 to $6.9 billion last year.
The water shortage is particularly acute for the farmers in south Florida, who rely on Lake Okeechobee, says Terence McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture. The South Florida Water Management District reduced farmers’ water permits by 45% as the lake, backup water supply for more than 5 million people, dropped to record lows.
McElroy predicts a $1-billion economic impact on agriculture if the drought persists through 2008. “Farmers are going to be reluctant to put plants in the ground,” McElroy says, “and then we’re facing a real dearth of supply of domestic fruits and vegetables in our country, as well as higher prices.”
? A citrus comeback after several bad years related to hurricanes and citrus canker and greening
? Mandatory safety regulations for Florida’s tomato fields in response to growing concerns about tainted food from China and recent food-borne illnesses associated with California spinach and peanut butter from Georgia. The new regs are meant to give consumers an additional reason to buy Florida tomatoes.
? Nursery and greenhouse products, including landscape sod and shrubs, remain Florida’s No. 1 agricultural crop, with cash receipts of nearly $2 billion in 2005.
? Citrus is No. 2, with $1.6 billion.
? Sales of livestock and related products brought in $1.5 billion, with $421 million of that from dairy sales and $507 million from sales of meat animals.
? Fresh-vegetable growers harvested more than $1.2 billion in sales in 2005.