Big business in alligator egg poaching
In the alligator business, there's no doubt as to which comes first, the alligator or the egg. It's the egg. The problem is, there aren't enough to go around.
Farm-raised gators get their start in an incubator room where eggs typically are kept at a constant temperature to ensure maximum yield. A temperature of 89 degrees also produces more females, which grow faster.
Gatorama, a rare farm that also is open to the public as an attraction, allows some gators to grow to monstersized maturity to entertain tourists. Most farmed gators, however, go to grow-out houses. They’re kept for two years, growing to between 4½ and 5½ feet, then harvested.
The money is in the hides, which are sold on the fashion market, where they’re used to make handbags, shoes and other items. Hide prices have ranged in recent years from from $15 to $75 a linear foot. On average, gator farmers realize about $395 per gator for its meat and hide.
Meat is a by-product — in 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, the wholesale value of Florida’s farmed alligator meat was a fourth the value of the hides.
Value —The average annual value for Florida meat and hides is $8.17 million.
1.3 million — Estimated number of alligators in Florida.
$62.6 million — Proceeds from the entire nation’s alligator farming business in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — about half the value of Florida’s potato crop. The USDA lumps alligator farming in with sea urchins and frogs in its “miscellaneous aquaculture” category.
Florida alligator farmers market gator hides extensively; a marketing group has visited Paris, Italy and Las Vegas to promote Florida hides for fashion. Most recently, it’s partnered with the Savannah College of Art and Design in a competition for students, to groom them in working with the pricey material and to show how off-grade hides — those with scarring or holes from bites — can be used.
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