Florida’s agriculture industry is continuing to grow, according to a report released last week by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Ranking second behind California in fresh market vegetable production, Florida’s agriculture industry reported steady growth in 2012 from the previous year.
The report “Florida Agriculture: By the Numbers” cited increased sales of oranges, honey and other agricultural commodities.
“Florida agriculture remains a very viable and resilient group,” said Dan Sleep, senior analyst and supervisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture. “It’s a very tough environment to produce products in and our farmers show an exceptionally good job of doing that.”
The total impact of the agriculture industry on Florida’s economy exceeded $100 billion in 2012, accounting for 8 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, he said.
Sleep attributes much of this economic success to Florida’s 47,500 farms that have a vested interest in the long-term health and welfare of the industry. Spanning more than nine million acres and growing roughly 300 various products, Florida’s farms ranked first in the report for production value of grapefruit, squash, sweet corn and watermelon among others.
The report also highlighted Florida’s continued national lead in orange production, boasting a 15.4 percent increase in crop value from $1.3 billion in sales in 2011 to $1.5 billion in sales in 2012.
“As these commodities gain strength, they add tens of thousands of jobs out there in a variety of capacities,” Sleep said. “There’s a whole array of skilled and semi-skilled positions that are created to make sure the products literally go from the field to New York City or London or wherever they’re shipped to. It’s a rather amazing process.”
Two million jobs are supported by the agriculture industry, representing about 14 percent of the state’s workforce, according to Dr. Alan Hodges, who works as an extension scientist in Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida.
Hodges links the industry’s prosperity to Florida’s significant supply of agricultural labor, noting that many specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables, require large amounts of hand-harvesting workers.
“In a lot of places where incomes are growing, people start demanding more of these high-valued fruits and vegetables instead of just basic cereals and other staple foods,” he said. “With this increasing affluence and disposable income, people want more high-quality foods like meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.”
Hodges associates this increased demand with particularly major agricultural growth in inland counties. He said agriculture and related industries represent half of the economy in counties such as Alachua, Suwanee and Madison.
Alachua County is the leading producer of blueberries in the state with the fruit valued at $60 million a year, Hodges said.
Aparna Gazula, commercial horticulture agent for Alachua County, attributed the county’s blueberry boom to its close proximity to UF. She said much of the field research conducted for finding and testing blueberry varieties has taken place at the horticulture department on campus, allowing local farmers to implement these practices early on.
“We still have been adding acreage every year, but other counties have also been adding more acres of blueberries,” she said. “But given our edge in being the largest to begin with, I think we’ll still have quite a few acres on other counties continuing into the future.”