Southeast Florida Roundup
Rice paddy fields of Florida
Rice farming surges in the Everglades - Part of a series on rural Florida
The Everglades farming area, long synonymous with sugar cane and winter vegetables, has seen a rise in planting in an obscure niche: Rice.
Paddies in the Everglades Agricultural Area this year produced a record crop of 120 million pounds, a 33% increase from 2016. West Palm Beachbased Florida Crystals, a major sugar cane grower, accounted for 22,700 acres of the 28,000 acres in rice production.
Rice farming in the Glades dates to the 1950s, disappeared after a rice virus threat, then returned on a small scale in the 1970s.
The acreage planted this year, while a record, is a fraction of the 470,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area.
Farmers plant rice from March to June and harvest from July to November. Most Florida rice is long grain.
Florida Crystals recently put $8 million into its Belle Glade rice mill, employing 40 and allowing rice production in the area to increase. The company produces both organic and conventional rice. Florida rice and rice flour goes to the food industry and, beginning this year, to consumers under Florida Crystals’ Florida Table Rice brand.
Luigi Trotta, Florida Crystals director of farming, rice and organic, says that when giving the land a break from sugar cane and sweet corn production, it’s better to plant rice than to let the land lie fallow.
He explains that rice grows in summer, is suited to lots of rain and heat, cleans the water by absorbing nutrients harmful to the Everglades ecosystem, requires no fertilizer and keeps fields covered in water so that weeds can’t grow and the muck soil doesn’t dry out and blow away — a bane called subsidence.
“The best way to preserve the land is to grow something on it,” Trotta says. “Rice is a great crop for land conservation.”
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