Florida revels in ag leadership position

When it comes to fresh, Florida-grown produce doesn’t just make a splash—its bounty is felt both domestically and internationally.

The state’s top 10 commodities—bell peppers, blueberries, cucumbers, grapefruit, oranges, snap beans, strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon—are produced by over 47,000 growers on 9 million acres of farmland.

And then there’s the expanding roster of exotic and specialty crops grown downstate, making the Sunshine State the place to be for all things fresh and delicious.

“We’re blessed with the kind of climate that makes it possible to grow a wide variety of crops,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), BB #:153753 which has just celebrated 75 years in business.

Charles LaPradd, agricultural manager for Miami-Dade County, couldn’t agree more.

“For a certain time of year, we’re local to everyone in the country when it’s snowing. We’re the only subtropical growing area in the subcontinental United States and the leading producer of tropical fruit and wintertime vegetables.”

Better yet is ongoing research to bring even greater diversity to the state’s crop mix.

“The potential for innovation and diversification—the qualities that keep specialty crop agriculture thriving—is as great as it’s ever been,” adds Lochridge, noting new studies for “potential new crops for Florida such as pongamia [an oil-producing seed for biofuels], hops, artichokes, pomegranates, and even tea.”

LaPradd mentions interest in boniatos. “One of our growth sectors has been in Latin sweet potatoes,” he says, noting the vegetable’s crossover appeal with both Latin and Asian consumers.

“Miami-Dade is the largest sweet potato producing county in Florida, but it’s boniatos, not traditional sweet potatoes.”

And while it may be difficult to predict the success of newer crops, Florida has no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables, grown and promoted throughout the state.

This is a multi-part spotlight feature on Florida produce adapted from the October 2019 issue of Produce Blueprints.