The Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce hosted its Farm City 2017 luncheon at the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
The featured speaker was Mike Joyner, assistant commissioner of Florida’s Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, who was introduced by John Hoblick, president of the Florida Farm Bureau.
Joyner highlighted many of the positive aspects of the agricultural and livestock industries, and how they are the hidden backbone of both Florida’s and Palm Beach County’s economy.
Joyner said 300 different commodities are produced by the Sunshine State, and added that the agriculture and livestock sector employs 2 million people statewide, producing approximately $120 billion in annual economic revenues in Florida.
“And to dispel the myth of the dominance of large agribusiness operations, 80 percent of the more than 47,000 farms in Florida are family-owned,” Joyner emphasized.
In Palm Beach County, agriculture and livestock support more than 172,000 jobs and generate $3.6 billion in revenue, which is approximately 20 percent of the county’s economy, Joyner said. He also said that the revenues have increased over 10 years, from $2.8 billion in 2006 to $3.6 billion in 2016.
Florida ranks first in the nation in production of sugar cane for both sugar and seed, as well as sod. Palm Beach County ranks first in the state for producing sweet corn, harvested vegetables, sugar cane for both sugar and seed, and sod.
“Eighty percent of the vegetables on the Thanksgiving dinner table are produced in Florida, and much of that harvest comes from right here in Palm Beach County,” Joyner said.
What many people might not know is that Florida is a big livestock state, with large numbers of poultry, pork and, especially, beef farms and ranches. Joyner pointed out that three out the five largest cow/calf operations in the United States call Florida home.
However, he emphasized that farming and ranching in Florida and Palm Beach County are facing some obstacles to continued growth. Pests and disease, water issues and the North American Free Trade Agreement are the three major issues facing the agriculture and livestock industries.
“The Asian citrus psyllid has devastated the citrus industry in the central part of Florida. In 2007, there were 204 million boxes of citrus harvested, while in 2017 there were only 50 million boxes. And the 2018 numbers will be even worse because of devastation by Hurricane Irma in the citrus groves,” he said.
Joyner added that the oriental fruit fly and the screwworm are two more invasive species that have adversely affected agriculture, livestock and wildlife in Florida.
Access to fresh water is a continuous challenge to farmers and ranchers, while trade agreements have hurt U.S. fruits, vegetables and livestock in the national and international marketplaces, he added.
Joyner sees the solutions to these issues coming from many different places.
The federal government can help by strengthening protections at ports of entry, supporting the agriculture and livestock industries in water disputes, and fighting for U.S. farmers and ranchers in trade talks.
The State of Florida can help by continuing to support research at state universities, establish public policies that support the agriculture and livestock industries, and support the “Buy Fresh from Florida” campaign.
“There are more than 14,000 stores worldwide that distribute Florida agricultural and livestock products,” Joyner said.
For more information, visit www.freshfromflorida.com.
The industry needs to do its part in dealing with these challenges, he said.
“Every year, Florida famers save 11 million gallons of water through technological advances and information gathering,” Joyner said.
He sees the future of agriculture and livestock as bright, but there are even more challenges on the global level.
“In 2017, the worldwide population is 7 billion, and in 2050 it’s expected to be 9 billion people. That’s what is called ‘the 9 billion question,’” Joyner said.
He went on to explain that only 1.5 percent of the world’s population is involved in food production, and will have to feed 2 billion more people than it does today.
Hoblick reinforced that point in his introduction.
“In 1967, one farmer fed 39 people, while today one farmer feeds 155 people. In Florida, 47,500 farms feed 20 million people statewide,” Hoblick said. “Palm Beach County agriculture is tops in the nation, [having] some of the highest harvests of sugar cane, sweet corn, lettuce and many other crops.”
Hoblick also paid homage to the original Farm City proclamation by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, stressing the importance of urban areas and farming areas working together for the good of the economy and the public.
Mary Lou Bedford, chief executive officer of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber, stressed the importance of agriculture to the local economy during her closing remarks.
“During the economic downturn of 2008, and for many years after, it was agriculture that helped to stabilize the economy here in Palm Beach County,” she said.
To learn more about the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, call (561) 790-6200 or visit www.cpbchamber.com.