In 2008 there were 47,500 farms in Florida. Just 38 percent of them had annual sales of more than $10,000. Many of the rest were part-time operations for people who held other jobs. Farmland occupied 3.7 million hectares (9.3 million acres). Of that land 32 percent was planted in crops, and the rest was mostly pasture. Some 49 percent of the cropland was irrigated.
The sale of crops accounted for 81 percent of Florida’s farm income in 2006. The sale of livestock and livestock products accounted for the remaining 19 percent. The principal crops are oranges and other citrus fruit, greenhouse and nursery products, tomatoes and other vegetables, and sugarcane. Livestock raised in Florida include beef and dairy cattle, chickens for eggs and meat, hogs, and Thoroughbred horses. In the Florida panhandle, where commercial agriculture is not a major activity, livestock, cotton, peanuts, and other crops are raised on a relatively small scale. Farther east and southeast, in the northern part of the peninsula, agriculture is more important. In this area the chief crops are tobacco, peanuts, cotton, and vegetables. Dairy cattle and chickens are also raised. In central Florida, the leading crops are oranges and other citrus fruits.
However, this area is also noted for its vegetable farms, ornamental horticulture, cattle ranches, and horse farms. In south central and southern Florida, the principal crops are vegetables and sugarcane. Cattle are also raised.
Florida leads all other states in the production of citrus fruits. Each year the state accounts for two-thirds of the total U.S. citrus crop. It ranks first in the nation in the production of oranges and grapefruit. Other kinds of citrus fruits grown include tangerines, tangelos, and limes. The fruits are grown in groves that generally cover less than 8 hectares.
The preferred land for growing citrus fruit is the rolling lake district of the central Florida peninsula, where the numerous bodies of water retain their warmth in cold weather and help reduce frost hazards. The gently sloping terrain causes cold air to sink into hollows below the level of the fruit. Most citrus in Florida is grown without irrigation, but sprinkler systems are used to irrigate the groves during especially dry years.
These systems also supply water for spraying the fruit during brief episodes of below-freezing, nighttime temperatures. The water freezes on the citrus fruit and insulates the fruit’s interior.
Hard freezes, which are especially damaging to the citrus crop, have occurred at least once a decade in the last 100 years. Two hard freezes in the 1980s caused farmers north of Lakeland and Orlando to abandon growing citrus fruits in their groves, and the industry has been slowly shifting southward ever since. In the past the shipment to market of low-quality fruit, damaged by freezes, caused disastrous price slumps and often ruined citrus growers. However, strict market control by the Florida Citrus Commission over quantity and quality of fruit sold now helps to keep up prices after severe winters. Also very damaging to the crop is the tiny Mediterranean fruit fly, which has threatened Florida many times in the second half of the 20th century. The Florida citrus market is also challenged by overseas competition, especially from Brazil where orange-juice producers aggressively expanded their markets in the 1990s.
Sugarcane is extremely sensitive to frost, and where frosts occur, it must be replanted every year. The southernmost part of Florida is one of the few places in the mainland United States where such replanting is not necessary. Six to seven crops may be obtained from one planting. The city of Clewiston, on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, is the center of Florida’s sugarcane cultivation. Production was expanded after 1961, when the United States stopped importing Cuban sugar because of political differences.
Florida is noted for the production of early vegetables and fruit. The growing of vegetables and fruit for sale early in the year is a modern development that owes its advance in part to the demand for fresh vegetables in states north of Florida. Florida’s warm near-tropical climate allows its farmers to produce crops earlier than farmers in most other states and thus to obtain good prices in cities north of Florida. Tomatoes are the most valuable winter crop, and potatoes, sweet corn, celery, carrots, and lettuce are also grown. Watermelons are a valuable summer crop in Florida and, like early vegetables, they are shipped mainly to Northern cities. Strawberries are another important crop. The Plant City area, east of Tampa Bay, is the center for strawberry cultivation. Together with Sanford, it is also a leading celery-producing center. Cucumbers are grown mainly in northern Florida, and early white potatoes are a specialty of the Hastings area. Among the other kinds of fruit grown in Florida are avocados, figs, persimmons, guavas, mangoes, pineapples, peaches, and grapes. "Florida" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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