He says the state has kept pace with the rest of the country with about 20% growth, and believes the demographics of the state lend to continued growth.
“Florida has a very diverse population and large agricultural output,” says Hansen. “In recent years, people’s concern with fitness and health, as well as responsible consumerism in the form of organic or chemical-free foods and ‘local eating,’ has provided a very big market for these types of foods. Just walk into any supermarket in Florida and you’ll see an organic section, and farmers markets are becoming very popular because they offer a great outlet for organic produce. There has also been an impact for farmers, as they realize that they can dedicate some of their land to organic farming to fill this growing niche.”
With companies failing and jobs being lost, one wonders if the 20% annual growth in the organic market can sustain itself. Hansen believes that loyal organic consumers will not cut organic food items out of their budgets first.
“At this point in the current economic crisis, it is difficult to say whether lower incomes or concerns with saving will have a large impact on organic purchases,” he says. “Those who purchase organic foods are aware that they pay a premium for the food they consume. They usually select organic foods because they believe that in the long term they will save more by staying healthier than those who don’t consume organic foods. My guess is that most people will continue to buy organic and cut down on other purchases or luxuries rather than give up their nutrition habits.”
If transportation costs continue to rise, buying local shows promise as well, becoming more competitive.
“In terms of ‘local eating,’ Florida still imports more organic foods than it produces, meaning that as prices rise (whether it be fuel, transportation costs, or a higher demand in local markets outside of Florida) consumers will turn to foods produced locally because they will be more readily available and probably equal in price,” he says.
“As supermarkets and town stores began to add organic sections, it became clear that Florida was importing certain organic crops that were traditionally grown in the area. This prompted Florida farmers to start dedicating some of their land to organic production. As the market for these foods has grown, I’ve seen an increase in organically grown tomatoes, strawberries, yellow squash, lettuce, citrus, and herbs (such as rosemary and basil), just to name a few. In fact, production of these crops has become so successful that Florida is now exporting these to other states.”
For growers considering making the transition to organics, Hansen suggests they get educated first.
“Growing crops in Florida has great advantages due to its warm climate and sandy soils, but there is also high disease pressure due to the high humidity levels, which make crops more susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases,” he says. “My advice to growers considering organic production is it boils down to education. They should research crops and pick what they are going to grow carefully, take advantage of IFAS workshops, and contact the Florida Organic Farms organization for guidance at www.foginfo.org. Additionally, growers should decide which marketing channel they will focus on, as different types of markets have varied demands. Owning a ‘you-pick’ operation versus selling to a large supermarket chain will determine which crops the growers should target.”