Small farms in Florida might not grab the big headlines, but the fact that there are so many of them means they can’t go unnoticed. And they don’t.
In statistics last updated in 2015, Florida had approximately 47,300 commercial farms and ranches, using a total of 9.45 million acres, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). I was interested— though not really surprised— to learn that more than 90 percent of all the farms are small farms, as classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That classification is based on sales and not on acreage or anything else. The USDA says a farm is “small” if its annual sales don’t exceed $250,000.
Because, to survive, they have to compete with “the big boys” in highly competitive commodity and consumer marketplaces, the owners and managers of Florida’s small farms— typically “moms and pops”— face critical issues and have special needs. The farmers themselves and the organizations established to represent and support them have identified those issues and needs to include:
Access to profitable markets.
Convenient opportunities to develop business skills.
Quick access to relevant farming information— especially technical information.
Knowledge about and ways to tap into trending alternative crops.
In a positive response to these needs, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (better known as FAMU) partnered a while back to form a Small Farms Extension team. A testament to the team’s good work to date is an information-rich website focusing on Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises (http://smallfarms/ifas.ufl.edu/about_us.html). The website features 11 key and comprehensive sections: Planning & Management; Food Safety; Livestock & Forage; Crops; IPM (Integrated Pest Management); Forest Product, Environmental & Recreational Uses; Freshwater Aquaculture & Farm Ponds; Organic Production; Other Enterprises; State & Federal Agencies; and Agricultural Weather.
To supplement the website, the Small Farms Extension team coordinates several regional workshops, a Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference, and regional small farms working groups.
The website referenced here is an excellent one-stop shop for small-farm operators. To those who don’t know about it, I highly recommend that you check it out and bookmark it in your Web browser.
CREDIT: BAXTER TROUTMAN
This column is sponsored by Labor Solutions.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, and Arcadia. He also currently serves as president of the Florida AgriTourism Association board of directors. You can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.