ST. PETERSBURG -- Florida's Department of Agriculture released a 180-page report Friday showing that citrus fruits, snap beans and cucumbers grown in the Sunshine State are among the industry's highlights.
The report reveals the sweep of the state's agriculture industry; it's the second-largest industry in the state, behind tourism. Agriculture contributes $104 billion to the state's economy annually and employs 2 million people.
"There's still a great deal of resiliency and strength in the overall Florida agricultural marketplace," said Dan Sleep, a senior analyst for agriculture department.
Sleep said one crop has surprised him with extraordinary growth: blueberries.
In the past 10 years, Florida blueberries have gone from a $10 million industry into a $65 million industry, he said, largely due to the fact that farmers are planting heat-resistant and hardy berry bushes.
"That's one that will ultimately hit $100 million," he said. "That's pretty phenomenal growth."
One of those blueberry farmers, Lyna Knight, grows the fruit in Hillsborough County and in Duette. Knight recognizes that prices will fall with the increase in blueberry acreage.
"We are optimistic and expanded to keep up with the volume. We will be growing blueberries on about 150 acres," Knight said.
She hopes to keep revenue up through the increased volume of blueberries being grown.
The data used to develop the estimates in the report were provided volun
tarily by growers, shippers, and processors.
According to the report, Florida:
Is first in the nation in the value of production of oranges, grapefruit, fresh market snap beans, cucumbers for fresh market, cucumbers for pickles, squash, sweet corn, fresh market tomatoes, sugarcane for sugar and watermelons.
Ranks second to California in the total value of fresh market vegetable production, with $1.1 billion worth of veggies produced.
Ranks seventh in the nation for agricultural exports; the state exported $4 billion worth of commodities. Fresh and frozen meat, along with vegetables, were the top products sent to other countries.
Yet citrus is still the state's leading crop. The value of the state's orange crop continued to rise, with $1.5 billion in sales, up from $1.3 billion the previous year. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share -- and about 95 percent of the state's orange crop is used for juice.
One of Manatee County's largest citrus growers is SMR Farms with nearly 1,000 acres in groves.
SMR Farms sells virtually all of its crop to juice makers Tropicana in Bradenton and Peace River Citrus in Arcadia.
Total citrus state acreage is down 2 percent from the previous survey and the lowest since 1966. Florida has lost trees due to citrus greening, which is spread by an insect and causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits. Once a tree is infected, it dies in a couple years and cannot be saved.
Greening has found its way into Manatee County groves, too. Mac Carraway, president of SMR Farms, calls it a "particularly nasty problem."
SMR Farms has undertaken kind management practices that have evolved since greening was discovered, Carraway said.
He hopes that a cure can be found soon. "There are a lot of smart people working on a solution," Carraway said.
Orange tree acreage declined for the eighth consecutive survey to 464,918, replacing the previous record low of 466,252 tallied in the 1986 inventory. Grapefruit tree acreage fell to a new low of 48,191, representing only 54 percent of the figure before the 2004-2005 hurricanes.
Polk County has the most citrus trees in the state.