Agriculture has always been a center point in all civilizations from the beginning of time. It is arguably the most important career field in the entire world. Without the production and cultivation of food and products, civilizations crumble and die.
Agriculture has also shaped the entire history of Florida and is still a common and vital part of this great state today. The original explorers, who were led by Ponce de Leon, named this location "la Florida" or "Feast of Flowers" for its flourishing and abundant growing potential.
Even though some of the landscape and much of the population has changed over the past 500 years, Florida still bears resemblance to its agricultural history. Throughout the years, advancements in machines and technologies have improved the early agricultural practices. In those years, agriculture has celebrated the diversity of Florida's people, in growing a vast amount of different crops and livestock. Florida's history was shaped by agriculture and some aspects of agriculture may have been shaped by Florida' history.
When the explorers landed on Florida's coast, Native American Indians were thriving by cultivating crops such as corn, squash and beans. They also utilized Florida's natural food source by fishing surrounding waters.
When the Spaniards came in 1513, they brought some of today's most important aspects of Florida agriculture. However, the explorers and settlers also brought disease and war, decimating much of the native Florida Indian populations.
During the settlement process the explorers tried to replicate the agriculture that was common in Spain. Crops that they were trying to raise were grapes and sheep; neither was able to survive here.
However, the Spanish were able to successfully grow tomatoes, pineapples, citrus and sugarcane. They also brought over livestock, including bovine (cattle), equine (horses), swine (pigs), and poultry (chickens). Together, the Indians and settlers that survived taught each other how to raise and grow both the indigenous crops and new crops that were brought over, making this a new era of Florida's agriculture.
After some time under Spanish rule, the area known as Florida was given to the United States in 1819. The United States expanded Florida's agriculture with new and diverse crops from other cultures, including indigo, rice, cotton, peanuts, tobacco and other fruits.
During this time of the country's development, much of the agriculture of the United States was done in Florida. This is mainly due to the 12-month growing season in our beautiful state. Our climate also helped the forestry, fishing and livestock industries to prosper.
Agriculture in Florida today is quite different than in the 1500s. Even though tourism is Florida's No. 1 source of revenue, agriculture ranks an impressive second.
Many things have been lost, changed and introduced to Florida's agricultural culture. Through the 500 years of this great state's agriculture, the "cracker cow" and "cracker horse" have been lost.
Even with a few lost commodities, Florida's agriculture is no less diverse or successful than it once was. Florida farmers have produced national champions in each of the livestock species. This state is No. 1 in citrus production in America and produces nearly half the world's orange juice.
Florida is also known to grow incredible amounts of tomatoes, strawberries and melons. Both dairy and beef cattle are significant industry producers in our state. New technologies and developments that have helped in agriculture production, include hydroponics, water conservation, erosion control, and pest control and genetics research.
The invention of motorized machinery -- such as tractors, combines, milking machines and conveyor belts -- optimizes cultivation of products. Computers help track animal- and sea-life populations for farmers, breeders and fishermen; track production, revenue and advertisement for industries, and collect important data to ensure agriculture's future development.
Today, Florida uses one third of the land on agriculture, which has a multibillion dollar impact yearly.
Over the past 500 years, Florida agriculture has grown and impacts today's world -- from humble beginnings by explorers to a technologically advanced state. Florida farmers have overcome many challenges that came with the many changes during the course of those years. Agriculture has shaped Florida's history to a great extent, and will always be a vital part of our future.