Updated 2 yearss ago
Workers harvest lettuce for TKM Farms in Belle Glade. [Photo: Brian Smith]
Thriving as Others Struggle
After several years of battering by hurricanes, disease and severe drought, Florida agriculture’s outlook is bright for 2009. The ray of sunshine in cloudy times reflects a consistent trend in Florida’s modern economy: When times are tough elsewhere in the economy, agriculture often thrives.
“It’s a reminder that agriculture is a steady, consistent contribution to our state’s economy,” says Terry McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “People don’t have to take their Disney vacation. But they do have to eat.”
“We’re all optimistic for the coming year and especially for 2010.” — Jorge Abreu, owner of West Kendall Nursery
Eating doesn’t have as much to do with it as you might think; nearly a decade ago, horticultural products including shrubs and sod surpassed citrus as Florida’s top crop. But almost all agricultural sectors are thriving now, after season upon season of crisis. Last year was particularly painful, as farmers got a one-two punch of drought and record-breaking fuel and fertilizer cost hikes. Several longtime farms and packinghouses packed it up for good.
But now, both fuel costs and rain are falling. And while the housing market decline has driven out a few nurseries that catered to new-home developers, even the horticultural industry is making a comeback. “A lot of people are hunkering down at home to weather the economy, taking vacations at home rather than going away, and that means buying plants,” says Jorge Abreu, president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association.
Abreu says many growers changed practices to deal with rising costs and found the new ideas worked better than the old: Slow-release fertilizers, for example, and checking plants to see if they need pesticides rather than automatic spraying every few weeks. “The companies that survived are stronger,” says Abreu, owner of West Kendall Nursery. “We’re all optimistic for the coming year and especially for 2010, when the housing industry begins to come around as well.”
|Agriculture’s Impact in Florida|
|Here are the ag segments with the greatest value-added impacts — a broad measure of economic contribution comparable to GDP at the national level. Economists say the total value-added impact of agriculture in Florida is $44.36 billion. They put the overall economic impact of agriculture at about $100 billion.|
|Agriculture Segment (billions)||Impact|
|Forestry and forest products||7.98|
|Fruits and vegetable farming
and support services
|Other food product manufacturing||6.36|
|Tobacco farming and manufacturing||2.91|
and refined sugar manufacturing
|Livestock and dairy farming and
animal products manufacturing
|Source: University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences analysis of 2006 U.S. Department of Commerce data|
Leon County students tend to their school garden.