Photo: Daniel Portnoy
Crop shift in Miami-Dade
Rural Florida series: Miami-Dade farmers have turned to ornamental plants and trees.
Along with Miami-Dade County’s metropolitan distinctions is another, less urban: The county ranks first in Florida in the production of ornamental plants and No. 2 nationwide in plant and tree nurseries.
Once, Miami-Dade was a center for farming vegetables, especially tomatoes. But after the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 opened the door to tomato imports from Mexico, many Miami-Dade growers began switching to other crops, including the ornamental plants and trees used in landscaping. Due to competition and development, farmland in the county — 63,175 acres in 2017 — has diminished by about 28% since 1994 but has remained stable since 2012, as the mix of crops has shifted toward ornamentals.
Today’s farms are sophisticated operations, says Mark Wilson, who founded Greendale Nursery in south Miami- Dade in 1985. Wilson was just named Florida Farmer of the Year for his innovations in growing tropical foliage, including heliconias and birdsof- paradise.
“A lot of people have this mental picture of agriculture going back to the 1930s,” he says. “To be successful in agriculture today, you have to be strong in STEM,” he says — science, technology, engineering and math. Farmers increasingly need to know chemistry to combine nutrients, coding to program machines and how to use drones to inspect plants in the field, Wilson says. “There’s a lot of automation.”
Wilson, for example, employs an air-blast system to feed his plants, turning fertilizer or pesticides into a spray, which reduces the volume of chemicals applied from 100 gallons per acre to 20 gallons per acre. He also uses drip irrigation to minimize water use at his nursery in Homestead.
The nursery business still has plenty of challenges. “We’ve learned it’s not recession- proof, as food tends to be,” says Charles LaPradd, Miami-Dade’s agriculture manager. Builders and homeowners cut back on buying plants and trees during the real estate bust beginning in 2008, and in 2012 the county’s total agriculture sales of $604 million was still 9% below 2007 levels.
Nonetheless, the county says the sector has a billion-dollar annual economic impact and employs more than 20,000 people. The recent economic upturn has boosted sales at Miami-Dade nurseries, and there’s promise in medical marijuana, as well. At least two of the five farms chosen to grow legal marijuana for Florida are in the county: Costa Nursery Farms and Alpha Foliage. — Doreen Hemlock
Business Briefs for Miami-Dade:
AVENTURA — HCA’s Aventura Hospital & Medical Center has city approval to add a three-story, 60-room, 86,900-sq.-ft. patient care building and a 506-space garage on its 19.7-acre site. Coral Gables-based One Sotheby’s International Realty acquired Turnberry International Realty, which has about 100 agents.
CORAL GABLES — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency lifted its consent order over Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust; the order was enacted in 2014 for practices related to Ponzi-scheme perpetrator Scott Rothstein.
KEY WEST — Miamibased Warren Henry Auto Group purchased the former Duncan Auto Sales, replacing it with Keys Auto Center.
MIAMI — Fortune International Group, Related Group and Lennar subsidiary Rialto Capital Management jointly launched Vaster Capital, which will provide bridge loans to condo buyers, mostly customers from abroad. Ritz- Carlton Hotel Co. will base its cruise division, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, in Miami; sailings are scheduled to begin in 2019. Wellesley, Mass.-based Babson College will open a Miami location (adding to its Boston and San Francisco locations) in the fall of 2018 at the Cambridge Innovation Center Miami. The first Real Madrid Café in the U.S. will open in downtown Miami early next year; it will include a restaurant, bar, lounge and a store selling merchandise themed for the Spanish soccer team.
MIAMI BEACH — German Investment fund Bayerische Versorgungskammer paid a reported $283 million to buy 1111 Lincoln and an adjacent property — a total of 146,327 square feet — from developer Robert Wennett. The deal includes a parking garage, office and retail space on the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall.
MIAMI-DADE — Florida International University’s College of Engineering and Computing will be the first university in the U.S. to offer a bachelor’s degree in Internet of Things management.
MIAMI LAKES — Software company Hero K12, which helps schools replace traditional discipline policies with rewards- based programs, received an investment of more than $150 million from Boston-based private equity firm BV Investment Partners; it will use the funds for acquisitions.
People in the news for Miami-Dade:
Baptist Health South Florida hired Joe Natoli, former University of Miami CFO and former UM Health System interim COO, as its executive vice president and chief administrative officer. He replaced George Foyo, who retired.
Vitas Healthcare promoted Senior Vice President Joel Wherley to COO.
Motorsport Network hired Colin Smith, a former NASCAR vice president of digital media, as CEO.
Toast Vodka hired Bob Drinon, a former president and CEO of Charmer Sunbelt Group’s Florida Operation, as CEO.
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