Although it is famous for its sandy beaches, balmy weather, and family-friendly amusement parks, the Sunshine State’s prolific produce industry is just as impressive. But like any other key region, there are challenges and trends leading to plenty of ups and downs. Note: the research and interviews of this article were conducted before the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma and while much will change in the days and weeks going forward, the comments and insight provided in this spotlight remain relevant.
With more than 9,700 fruit and vegetable growers spanning 850,000 acres, Florida’s produce industry rakes in more than $12 billion a year. The state continues to be the U.S.’s top producer of grapefruit, oranges, cucumbers, snap beans, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. Helping propel sales to the rest of the United States and suppliers worldwide are 15 seaports along its lengthy coastline, contributing billions in economic value to the state’s coffers.
At the heart of the Sunshine State’s produce trade is a robust network of grower-shippers, receivers, wholesalers, and retailers who distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers across the globe.
Florida’s acreage and harvests experienced pests and disease, myriad weather incidents, and shifting consumer demand. Here’s a rundown on two of the bigger commodity-related trends in the last year.
Although the state grows more than 300 commodities, we are all aware that the Sunshine State has been known for its citrus. The impact of the Asian citrus psyllid and citrus greening, as well as other threats and rampant land development, continues to wither supply.
Although California is close on its heels for citrus production, Florida is far from throwing in the towel and projected to bring in between 60 and 75 million boxes for the 2016-17 season. “We’re losing all sorts of citrus trees to greening and canker and other diseases,” confirms Joel Silverman, president of Paradise Produce Distributors, Inc., in Lakeland. “The citrus growers are trying to reevaluate what they’re doing.”
In the battle against citrus greening, quite a few Florida citrus growers are experimenting with new categories. “Some growers are starting to plant Mandarin tangerines, which they’ve never planted before, and they’re hoping they’ll bring a bigger return,” Silverman says. Others are switching to another crop in high demand: blueberries.
In the meantime, agricultural scientists continue to search for a cure to the deadliest plant disease in Florida’s history—an incredibly expensive endeavor. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has invested over $400 million to address the disease, including more than $57 million through the Citrus Disease Research and Extension program.