Even with population growth, Florida ag remains strong

Recent reports claim that Florida may soon become the United States' third most populous state, overtaking New York. According to the U.S. Census, from April 2010 to July 2012, Florida's population grew 2.7 percent, while during the same time period, New York's grew 1 percent.

The national average was 1.7 percent, so Florida's growth is impressively larger. In 2012, New York's population was just under 19.6 million, a figure that is roughly 250,000 higher than Florida's, so it's a logical assumption that Florida will soon become number three.

Considering that agriculture is the second largest industry in our state, the largest being tourism, one wonders what implications this growth will have agriculturally on our state.

Rather than losing farmland to the growth, we are seeing more land devoted to farms.

"Currently, there doesn't appear to be a loss of acreage due to the population increase," said Dan Sleep, supervisor, senior analyst, Division of Marketing and Development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Small explained that there is large core of multigenerational farmers who do not sell their land, but instead pass it along to the next generation.

According to The USDA (2007), the number of acres of land in Florida farms has risen from 9,231,570 acres to 9,548,342 acres during the past few years alone. Also, the average Florida farm size, in terms of acreage, is also higher, up from 195 to 200 acres. "My educated guess is folks are adding acreage to supply markets across America, Canada and many nations around the globe," said Small, who added that Florida exports about 80 percent of what we grow.

What also has increased over the last year as well is the fact that Florida now ranks first across the U.S. in cucumbers for pickles and sugarcane for sugar and seed. Honey moved from fourth place to third place position. Sales of grapefruit, watermelon, snap beans, sugarcane for sugar and seed, cucumbers for fresh market and sweet corn, livestock, cattle and calves, nursery and greenhouse also increased. The Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, reports that receipts from Florida agricultural products in 2011 totaled to $8.26 billion, an increase of 5.4 percent from 2010.

With more people moving to Florida, there are employment considerations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is 6.3 percent, while the national average is 7 percent. We are below the national average across the board in terms of the unemployment rate, and the agricultural outlook is strong. That is, at least when considering the amount of jobs and types of jobs that are posted on AgCareers.com, a leading supplier of human resource services in the agriculture, food, natural resources and biotechnology industry. AgCareers.com reported that the number of jobs posted increased by nearly 30 percent in 2013. Furthermore, the site experienced a growth of 12,513 more positions posted in 2013.

The top agricultural industries in 2013 were poultry, agronomy and dairy, while the top three career types were sales, management and production. "There is a large range of agricultural jobs currently available in Florida," said Bonnie Johnson, marketing associate, AgCareers.com. Johnson offered the following examples: international trade associate, processing supervisor, scientist, produce broker, herdsman, nursery manager, applicator, improvement engineer and laborer.

Due to the fact that Florida is a large retirement state, no doubt the increase in population includes many retirees who will make an impact on trends, including food trends. Reports show that vintage foods, such as pot roasts and shepherds pie, local foods and convenient foods, prepackaged and easy-to-prepare, along with smaller-sized packages that helps cut expenses and are fit for a smaller household, are just some of the food trends that are appearing on the horizon. These trends can all translate into opportunities for growers and manufacturers.

According to the U. S. Census, there are 41.4 million people who were 65 and older in the United States on July 1, 2011, up from 40.3 million on April 1, 2010. In 2011, this group accounted for 13.3 percent of the total population. The U.S. Census also reports that 18.2 percent of Florida's current population is made up of those who are 65 years and over.

Although Florida is about to become the third most populous state, at least from an agricultural standpoint, it appears that we are strong enough to handle it.