Florida Growers Feeling Bugged To Death — And For Good Reason [Opinion]

Paul RusnakHave you ever had one of those moments when enough is enough? Sure you have. You know, where some situation or someone has driven you to the point of no return.

Advertisement

You’re mad as hell, and you’re not gonna take it any more.

Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few of you were in that state of mind as you read this, especially given all the recent invasive pest problems piling on to what’s an already challenging job.

In browsing headlines posted during the last couple of months on GrowingProduce.com, more than a few featured exotic pests posing new threats to Florida growers’ livelihoods. In that time, the old world bollworm, the New Guinea flatworm, and Oriental fruit fly joined the ranks of Florida farming’s most wanted, which already includes notorious killers (citrus psyllids, spotted wing drosophila, and giant African land snails, to name a few).

State Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam was even forced to declare an agricultural state of emergency thanks to the Oriental fruit fly outbreak in Miami-Dade County. It’s hard to believe a $1.6 billion chunk of the state’s farming pie could be at peril due to a tiny insect. But, that’s the reality.

So, when will all this madness end? Well, never. But it should get better, right? Maybe not.

It’s A Small World After All

International trade continues to be a boon for Florida agriculture (more than $4 billion a year, according to FDACS).

Port Tampa Bay is expanding its infrastructure to accommodate demand. The state’s largest port recently invested $24 million in two 65-ton, high-profile cranes to help expand cargo container business. The delivery is slated to coincide with the completion of the expanded Panama Canal in the first half of next year. Yes, there is more local product going out, but more items are coming in, too.

Speaking of trade, if having Cuba now open for business wasn’t threat enough to Florida agriculture, then the pest potential sure is. Putnam, during his keynote speech at the recent Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association annual convention, expressed concern over insects and disease hitching rides on new daily ferry service from Cuba. That possibility is likely not top of mind for U.S. citizens seeking unique entrepreneurial endeavors.

Countdown To 2050

If agriculture’s ultimate challenge is to be able to produce 70% more than it currently does to feed and clothe 9 billion people by 2050, then protecting crops will be even more paramount to the equation.

Who knows by then what other critters and diseases will be taking aim, provided there is enough room to actually field a crop.

Modern technology is improving plant breeding and production practices to streamline crop protection inputs. Growers are catching up. Good thing. There are 35 growing seasons left until 2050. The hard work has just begun.