Make Way for More Ideas on Your Farm If and Where You Can

Make Way for More Ideas on Your Farm If and Where You Can

Satellite image of Florida at night

Florida farmers are thinking outside of the box to get the most out of their land, which is closing in due to continued population growth and urban development.
Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

Is it getting crowded in here, or is it just me? No, I’m not imagining things. Florida is packed — literally. More than 88 million folks visited here during the first nine months of 2017, the highest number of any nine months in the state’s history, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s office. Keep in mind, this is in addition to the nearly 21 million warm bodies that already call the Sunshine State their permanent home.

Based on my rather lengthy daily commute along the “Most Dangerous Highway in America” (aka, I-4), I can honestly confirm the jaw-dropping visitor figure. During my “drive time” filled with mostly with visions of flashing tail lights, questionable bumper sticker choices, and single-finger salutes, I’ve had plenty chances to ponder what this constant crush is doing to where I live and work.

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Yes, the tourism/hospitality sector is high-fiving another record year and counting dollar signs. But then comes agriculture — the state’s second-largest economic driver. We’re in the back seat, which means lack of control over the steering wheel. But, we still have a say in where we’re going, right?

Growing Pains
In my recent recap of the 2017 Florida Ag Expo, I note how the farmscape has transformed around the Wimauma/Plant City/Ruskin area. It was shocking to see how much urban development has arisen in plain sight of the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm over the past year alone.

For the longest time when people would inquire about the Florida Ag Expo, they would often ask, ‘Where’s Balm?’ Umm … It’s no longer a question. It’s becoming home for countless visitors who are deciding to stay. And the I-4 corridor isn’t the only part of the peninsula feeling the pinch.

New Directions
So, if you’re a Florida farmer, where to go and how to get more out your land? As a complement to their traditional crop portfolio, some local growers have taken the plunge into water farming. Some might even consider clearing space for solar panels.

When it comes to this claustrophobic quandary, research isn’t resting. Thanks to a $3 million grant from USDA, Senthold Asseng, a UF/IFAS Professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and David Gustafson of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation are leading a multiyear project to find more places to grow produce. The duo will be using multiple modeling methods to predict current and future impacts on yield. Needless to say, this kind of research is timely, vital, and meshes nicely with the ongoing, invaluable work performed by Extension (along with growers) in fields and labs.

To that end, the other thing I noticed during this year’s Florida Ag Expo is the bounty of fresh, viable ideas to help specialty agriculture traverse into the future despite current challenges. New technology, innovation, perseverance, and patience are what’s going to fuel the next phase of farming. Actually, those same elements have powered agriculture from the start.

Time to squeeze in a little tighter, buckle up, and hold on.