2008 Industry Outlook
Thirsty: The water shortage is stunting growth for farmers.
On Citrus Harvest
The USDA estimates 168 million boxes for this year’s orange crop — 30% higher than last season’s. Mild, dry weather conditions, along with a two-week cold snap last February that caused multiple blooms, will mean a 52% higher average fruit per tree this year compared to last.
A Rotten Season
As 2008 dawns, the future for tomato-growing in Florida looks increasingly uncertain. Two of the state’s largest tomato growers, Big Red Tomato Packers of Fort Pierce and Taylor & Fulton of Palmetto, are shutting down, saying that competition from Mexico and increased costs mean planting in Florida is no longer profitable. A third company, Thomas Produce Co. of Boca Raton, is sitting out this season and will decide later this year whether to keep growing tomatoes.
|Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Florida Tomato Committee?|
It was a lot of red ink for a business that’s already expensive to be in, Brown says. Tomato farmers face even higher costs for fuel and other items in ’08.
The companies throwing in the towel are large enough that “it’s really raised eyebrows” in the agricultural community, says Dan Sleep, senior analyst at the Florida Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson has begun weekly meetings between his staff and farm leaders to more closely monitor the health of the industry. “These are the ones that, when they leave, really leave ripples in our economy,” Sleep says. “These are some of the toughest times we’ve seen, and we don’t want to lose any more.”
While still a small part of the total, organic produce is the fastest-growing segment of Florida’s agriculture industry. State agriculture officials estimate receipts of $10 million in organics of the $7-billion industry statewide. Organic growers say sales are much higher, but neither state nor federal statistics are capturing them yet.
Meanwhile, the number of organic farms in the state is growing by about 10% a year. Also significant: While many organic farms are small, more midlevel and major players are getting into the game, says Marty Mesh, director of the Florida Organic Growers Association. “With companies like Tropicana selling certified organic orange juice, you see larger growers devoting acreage to organic,” Mesh says.