Economic Progress A Threat To Box In Agriculture [Opinion]

Paul RusnakWhat’s that sound? Do you hear it? It’s a tap, tap, tap, followed by a rap, rap, rap. Ah yes. I knew it sounded familiar. The banging, clanging, and clamor of jackhammers actually is a good thing. New-build construction is back on the rise.

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I have noticed while driving around some of Greater Orlando’s major thoroughfares an uptick in commercial, residential, as well as mixed-use projects in various phases.

Along with the mortar, block, and glass, comes the landscaping and spec trees to complement a handsome property. All these are signs of a recovering local economy.

By no means is the economy in good shape yet, as many of you will attest, but as with all worthy things, it takes time to properly rebuild.

If you build it, they will come. And people are coming to Florida in droves.

Over the past year, the Sunshine State surpassed New York for third place in overall population among U.S. states. We have what a lot of people want. But where do you put them all?

With real estate becoming an attractive commodity again, will more farmers sell? For those struggling, I wouldn’t blame you.

Country Come To Town

The state’s traditional growing areas are getting more crowded. Producers in Plant City know exactly what I’m talking about. Buffer zones, noise ordinances, nutrient runoff concerns, and sinkhole threats all are factors heightened with nearby neighbors.

Instead of trying to beat them, why not join them? A few months ago, Florida Grower® magazine featured Tom West Blueberries, a fourth-generation farm located amid an Ocoee neighborhood in between two schools. Instead of looking for a way out from the urban encroachment, the operation is embracing its unique situation and using it as a learning opportunity by working with the schools to provide Fresh From Florida fruit, offering tours, and operating a successful U-Pick.

This kind of adaptation is catching on. According to UF/IFAS research, agritourism continues to gain ground in Florida. More are seeking alternative ways to grow their revenue along with their crops. The good news is that the government wants you to consider corn mazes, markets, bounce houses, and more.

Two years ago, the state legislature passed SB 1106, a bill created to bolster agritourism opportunities. With that, zoning laws, liability, and insurance issues that used to trip up growers are now much more manageable.

You have the land and an interested audience. It’s time to extend an invitation and convert them into customers.

The Final Frontier

One thing is for sure, the population is going to keep growing. So, what to do when we reach max capacity? I hear outer space is quite lovely.

It’s true. Scientists, including those at UF, have been working on growing plants in space. Decades of research has gone into analyzing growth habits in the gravity-free environment. NASA astronauts on the International Space Station just dined on fresh lettuce that was grown on board the habitable satellite.

High tunnels on Mars? It could happen one day. Just so long it’s not blocking the neighbor’s breath-taking view of Earth.