What is in this article?:
• The continuing recession combined with federal budget woes, a strengthening dollar, and the European debt crisis are Florida agriculture's immediate concerns.
• An economic-based retail decline means less overall spending for food, a big negative for fruits and vegetables.
DREW DUDA, from left,outgoing Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association chairman, chats with FFVA staffers Lisa Lochridge and Mike Stuart about the challenges and opportunities of Florida's agriculture at the organization’s 69th annual convention.
“We’re moving product within three days of harvest, at a market rate better than growers could get, and it’s a better deal for school districts, too,” Putnam says. “In my opinion, this is a huge opportunity for the industry, the state, and the health and well-being of our kids.”
Florida fruit and vegetable producers could also benefit from national health concerns, Palma says. He cites an International Food Information Council survey finding that 59 percent of U.S. consumers say they are attempting to improve their health, many by eating more nutritious food.
“If consumers changed their diets and started eating better, what would be the implications for the ag sector?” Palma asks, noting that if current trends continue, much of that increase would be imported.
“California, Texas and Florida are the main growing regions for fruits and vegetables in the U.S. How well will they be positioned to answer the challenge?”
Many economically solvent Florida farms and ranches are reasonably well-positioned to weather difficulties and even to take on some risk, says Regina Thomas, senior vice president and chief business development officer of Farm Credit of Central Florida.
“With all the challenges, there are more opportunities than ever — there is a bright future for Florida agriculture,” she says. “Our farmers have been faced with adversity before — this is nothing new. The big part of it is management ability. Are they using best management practices? Do they have financial strength to handle adversity?”
Established citrus growers could find this to be a good time for moderate expansion, replanting or rehabilitating groves, she says.
“With the decrease in development prices, citrus is economically a favorable investment again. Is that land ever going to get back to the highest price level of several years ago? Probably not, even though Florida remains an appealing place for many people. So, it’s a matter of investing strategically.”
Thomas still considers Florida agriculture a good loan risk.
“We are open to expansion. We do look at farm history and production. With some, it gets to be an economy of scale issue, but I think it’s a good time for expansion for established producers in citrus, blueberries and strawberries.”