Florida Agriculture: What do you think of?

What do you think of when you think of when you think about Agriculture in Florida? Citrus groves and alligator hunting come to mind pretty fast if you watch too much Discovery channel, but as the Valor class on their last trip found out, there is a lot more to agriculture in Florida than you might think.

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Valor’s latest agriculture journey took us on our national trip, and this year we wanted to see Florida. Most all of us in our class had been to the mid-west and seen the traditional large farm agriculture and we wanted to see some forms of agriculture that we do not get to see every day. Florida certainly did not disappoint. There is too much to talk about the entire trip and all of the great people we met, so I will only hit some highlights of the trip.

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One of the highlights of the trip for me was the entire day we spent looking at nurseries. I did not realize how large of an industry this is in Florida and we could have probably spent the entire week looking at nurseries. Because of their climate they are able to grow plants most of the year and ship them all over the country and the world. We got to talk to many large nursery and plant starting operations and understand the issues that they have in their industry. It is impressive to see 30,000 poinsettias growing in a greenhouse all ready for shipment in a few days and understand how they have to slow the plants growth by a couple days because it is too warm for Christmas shipments. I think we experienced that here in Virginia this year too, but when that much of your yearly sales are on the line it could be a little more than an inconvenience.

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Another stop we made was to US Sugar. I had no idea that US Sugar was located in Florida and that they are one of the largest sugar producing companies of cane sugar in the country. I had very little knowledge about how the sugar industry works or what it takes to grow, transport, and refine sugar and I still know very little about it but it is a very interesting industry. Like with much of modern agriculture, seeing the operation and the harvest in action it is very impressive.

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Also driving our renal van into a large sugar storage building cannot be good for the paint….

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Of course we did see the citrus industry in Florida and talked to farmers and the Florida extension about the issues and the “greening” disease that is threatening the entire industry in Florida. It is amazing how industries change over the years and if Florida does not find a cure for this disease they are currently fighting how it will change the industry for them forever.

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We got to tour and talk to one of the largest cattle ranches in Florida and even the country. Lykes Brothers ranch is a cow calf operation just north of lake Okeechobee and we talked with several of the operators of the ranch. Although they operate in a different state with different cattle in a different environment, many of their issues are similar to what we face here in Virginia. Instead of the Chesapeake Bay they have lake Okeechobee that they are concerned about, and Lykes Brothers Ranch has established themselves as a leader in taking care of their cattle and the environment.

Agriculture in Florida is very different than what we have in Virginia, and it was interesting to see the different industries.  However the farmers and agriculture businesses in Florida face many of the same issues we see everyday.  Everyone is concerned about the water and the environment, they are all working with a changing customer, and they all have to deal with a population that is now very removed from the farm and their food supply.  So no matter how different the agriculture in Florida may be from Virginia, we have to remember that we are all in the agriculture industry together.

We wrapped up our trip with a great evening visiting and talking with the Burbaugh’s at their farm. Thanks again to our former grad student at VALOR and now Dr. Bradley Burbaugh for all you did to help us out on our trip through Florida.  Best wishes to you Brad, in all your future endevers in Florida.

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