What is in this article?:
• With their comparatively small acreage, the Ericksons choose not to compete with the area’s traditional crops. Rather, they stick to higher value, intensive management crops and personally handle the marketing.
• Their plan succeeds well enough that the family’s fourth generation of south Florida farmers now works enthusiastically on the land, sticking with it through ruinous hurricanes, droughts and whatever else Mother Nature throws at them.
THE ERICKSONS, Kim, Dale, and Krista, in one of their Canal Point, Fla., groves.
Can't stand wet feet
“They can’t stand wet feet,” Krista says. “Almost all of them died, although we have quite a few avocados on our ridge right now. So, we switched to mangoes — they can handle the water.”
Mangoes and other tropical fruits and vegetables the Ericksons grow thrive here. They say the nearby lake creates a microclimate that warms their place and makes freezes rare.
“When there are cold fronts, 95 percent of the time they come from the northwest, over the lake, and that brings our temperature up,” Dale says. “We’ll usually be 8 degrees higher than is forecast by the alerts from the Homestead tropical research stations. We also have under-tree irrigation that creates fog in the canopy and holds the heat.”
However, the rare storms with wind from the east pound their tropical trees. The entire family remembers one that hit Christmas Eve, 1989.
“That’s the only white Christmas in my entire life,” Kim says. “We had been running overhead irrigation, and ice froze on the trees. It was a memorable Christmas — cold as all get-out, but something to remember.”
Being able to withstand most weather events gave the Ericksons confidence to expand into a wide variety of tropical fruit. Mangoes, with 40 acres of trees in production, remain their main crop. But they also grow carambola, sapodilla longan, lychee, papaya and a wide variety of vegetables.
“We grow about 45 varieties of mangoes and are constantly changing varieties,” Dale says. “There are at least 1,000 named mango cultivars around the world, so there are a lot to try. We did fairly well with mangoes until about 1995, when the North American Free Trade Agreement dropped the tariffs and imported mangoes just about wiped us out.
“By 2000, we were pretty well out of the mango business — we were removing them by the truckload. Then we stopped growing mangoes that won’t ship and started changing the operation over. Every year we find new varieties and try them.”
The better-shipping mangoes changed plenty for the Ericksons.
“We ripen them on the tree, which gives them better flavor and less fiber,” Dale says. “Imported mangoes are picked up to 42 days before they ripen, which doesn’t help their taste. Plus, in those shipping containers, the temperature gets dropped to 34 degrees. A mango can’t stand temperatures below 55, so the skin burns.
“Our mangoes just taste better — being ripened on the tree makes a big difference. The old varieties would ripen and drop. These don’t. They ripen and over a three- or four-day period, and we’ve got time to pick. These mangoes are sweeter, too. Their Brix is about 18 or 20, compared to 14 for other mangoes. We have one variety that goes to 22 Brix, which makes the taste a whole lot better.”
Dale thinks mangoes could be poised for an image boost in the minds of many American consumers. Mango flavoring, natural or not, is being used in a number of products ranging from shampoo to candles.