ENCORE: The Sunshine Economy On Agriculture
Squeezed between South Florida's neighborhoods and the Everglades is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. Tomatoes, beans and avocados all sprout from the rocky South Florida soil along with one of the largest nursery industries growing trees, shrubs and other landscaping plants.
Agriculture generates a direct $700 million dollars a year in Miami-Dade County alone. The economic impact of the plowing, growing and picking of those crops is much larger.
It’s a business squeezed by population growth and the desire for cheap food. But the dividing line between urban sprawl and rural commerce is clear. That line does not stop cheap imports from flooding the market, igniting an international trade war over tomatoes, pitting Florida farmers against their counterparts in Mexico and the Department of Commerce.
Tony DiMare is vice president of DiMare Fresh, the largest tomato grower in South Florida and one of the largest in the state. He has been out front fighting against a flood of Mexican tomatoes that he argues are sold in the U.S. too cheaply, pushing down prices and hurting American farmers. We hear his side of the international trade fight and talk with a representative for Mexican growers, who claim Florida's ag industry hasn't kept pace with innovation.
For a generation, the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade County has helped keep urban sprawl contained while limited the gobbling up of farmland. We drive along the rural roads with Charles LaPradd, the county's agriculture manager to hear how the demarcation has impacted the industry. FIU Geography Professor Jeff Onsted has studied the affect of these development policies on land use and land values.
Growers, meantime, work with the daily uncertainty of weather, markets and regulations. Diego Rodriguez tells us about food safety rules hurting his bottom line for his avocado and mameys packing plant Rodriguez Grove Services.
Small organic grower Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm is seeing more organic products. That helps her market but also means more competition.
Sal Finocchiaro may be the largest grower of beans in the region at S&L Beans but he isn't encouraging his son to be a farmer. He says it's just too hard.
Mark Wilson started Greendale Nursery in 1985. After growing up in Jamaica, he received his MBA from the University of Western Ontario and came to South Florida to grow plants. He now runs a multi-million-dollar-per-year operation and is concerned about the impact of immigration reform.
Finally, the commerce of agriculture meets the consumer in the kitchen. So we conduct a guacamole taste-test Linda Gassenheimer between one dish with "Florida only" ingredients and a second with Mexican avocados, a Canadian tomato, an onion from North Carolina and a jalapeno pepper whose whereabouts is unknown.