As images of empty store shelves are filling social media feeds and appearing in TV news stories during the global coronavirus pandemic, farmers in Florida are continuing to grow food that will increasingly stay in demand as social distancing and sheltering-in-place measures become the new normal.
Behind tourism, agriculture is Florida’s largest sector of the state’s economy and provides more than 2 million Floridians with jobs, with an estimated $140 billion economic impact statewide.
According to Adam Basford, Director of Legislative Affairs at the Florida Farm Bureau, food grown in Florida plays an important role in our domestic food supply infrastructure.
“Florida is among the top food-producing states in America, and during this critical moment in our history, every crate of tomatoes, glass of orange juice or ear of sweet corn counts,” said Basford. “Consumers should have confidence in knowing Florida farmers are working diligently during this crisis to help bring more fresh food to market.”
A recent document prepared by the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows Florida accounts for 56% of our nation’s domestic citrus production. Florida is also the second-largest producer of fresh vegetables.
In South Florida alone, farmers grow enough fresh produce to provide nearly 180 million Americans with food annually. The region has among the state’s most diverse group of row crops including sweet corn, radishes, rice, green beans, romaine lettuce and other leafy greens found in produce sections nationally. Here’s a breakdown of what is grown by South Florida farmers:
— Sweet Corn — to feed more than 16.5 million people
— Sugar — 25% of America’s sugar production
— Rice — enough to feed 25 million people
— Lettuce — enough to make 1 billion salads
— Cabbage — enough for 250 million servings of coleslaw
— Fresh Green Beans — enough for 350 million servings
— Celery — enough for more than 120 million stalks
In Central Florida, Florida cattle ranchers raise more than 882,000 head of cattle and produce milk from more than 125,000 dairy cows. Statewide, Florida farmers harvest more than 245,000 acres of fresh vegetables, making Florida a Top 10 state for production.
The Tampa area is known for producing strawberries on as many as 8,000 acres. This has earned Plant City the distinction of being known as the “Strawberry Capital of the World.” As a result, Florida is the number two state for strawberry production, behind only California.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory deeming agriculture a part of “critical infrastructure” during the coronavirus pandemic. The advisory specifies this includes “Farm workers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs.”
As farmers express confidence in food production and harvesting during the coronavirus outbreak, grocery suppliers such as Publix and Walmart have signaled our country’s food supply chain will remain intact even as demand for food grows. Both companies recently announced they are hiring thousands of new employees to help meet increased demand.
“We are thankful for Florida’s farmers, who are working tirelessly to provide food for their fellow Floridians during this uncertain time,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. “While store shelves may be temporarily empty, Floridians should know that they will soon be once again filled with fresh, nutritious food from Florida farms.”