How Agriculture is Putting Florida on the Map

In a state known as much for its oranges as its famed year-round sunshine, Florida’s agricultural industry is a bright spot in our already diversified economy. There is no argument needed to validate the orange’s rightful place on everything from Florida license plates to its distinction as the state fruit. The value of the state’s orange crop continues to rise, with $1.5 billion in sales and 66 percent of the total U.S. market share.

Our claim to fame of the citrus variety spurred an industrywide effort to increase production of new crops and add some “juicy” competitors to the mix. You may know that Florida’s orange production is No. 1 in the nation, but when is the last time an image of a cucumber welcomed you across Florida state lines from the interstate? Or a roadside sign on I-95 featured a tomato glistening in its peak season glory?

It could happen, one day.


A Multi-Sector Industry

In addition to oranges being ranked first in the nation, Florida-grown grapefruit, fresh market snap beans, fresh market cucumbers, squash, sweet corn, fresh market tomatoes and watermelon also all hold the same distinction – they are all first in the nation in value of production. Flying relatively under the radar, these crops are making a name on a national scale and at the same time, putting Florida on the map for a variety of products.

These hidden gems are part of a burgeoning agricultural industry which is an economic powerhouse in Florida, providing nearly two million jobs, $130.4 billion in revenue, $104.3 billion in value-added contributions, and accounting for 13.2 percent of total economic activity.

The agricultural industry is so much more than simply crops and citrus growing. It’s a multi-sector industry that encompasses everything from cattle sales to greenhouse products.


Growing Closer to Home

Not only is Brevard County part of a state that is a major player in this industry, but it is holding its own in a region known for top producers. Out of an 11-county Central Florida region, Brevard County has the third highest agricultural gross regional product at more than $18 million, the fourth highest number of jobs tied to the industry at over 30,000, and captures $1.4 billion in annual revenues. In fact, the agriculture industry accounts for 12.5 percent of the county’s total employment.

With so many individuals working within this industry, it’s critical to have local resources available.

The Brevard Extension Service is a Cocoa-based organization that was formed from a partnership between the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the county. The Extension provides educational information, certifications and hands-on classes in pasture management, fertilization recommendations, pesticide application, beef cattle reproduction management, livestock handling, herd health, use of prescribed fire, precision agriculture and a variety of similar subjects.

The state of Florida has nearly 24 million acres of forests, croplands, and ranches – two-thirds of Florida’s total land area. Brevard County’s inherent natural landscape holds an impressive share of this abundant land that is conducive to the many forms of products grown and produced in our own backyard. Driven by innovation and new technology, agriculture and related industries will continue to complement the advances in our manufacturing and high-tech based economy.


Lynda Weatherman is president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.