As citrus greening continues to ravage the Florida citrus industry, many growers are looking for alternative crops to supplement their income. One crop growing traction among citrus growers is bamboo.
As an agricultural product, bamboo has a myriad of uses. The young shoots of certain varieties can be harvested and processed for culinary uses, whereas older plants can provide wood and fiber material which can be processed into anything from construction materials to fabrics.
Bamboo is also an ecological crop. One acre of bamboo can sequester up to 20-40 tons of carbon dioxide per year while generating thirty-five percent more oxygen than an acre of trees.
Bamboo plants need less maintenance before becoming established. There are currently relatively few pests or diseases which threaten bamboo, so few insecticides, fungicides, or other chemicals are necessary. Weed control is essential for establishing new planting. This is not to say that bamboo can survive without maintenance – young shoots need to be periodically thinned, for example, to ensure culm development – but still considerably less than citrus.
There is approximately three-year lead time before the plant will have harvestable growth. Edible bamboo shoots can be harvested at about the three-year mark, with wood becoming harvestable at approximately five years. This will continue for the 80-100 year lifespan of the bamboo plant.
Bamboo is particularly well suited to growing in Florida, preferring a moist, humid climate. Several varieties are being evaluated for uses in Florida.
Up until recently, one of the largest concerns with growing bamboo in Florida was the lack of a proper processing facility in the state, meaning that all bamboo harvested in Florida would be shipped off for processing.
However, Rizome Bamboo has recently announced that they are seeking to build a processing facility within the state of Florida, meaning that the costs associated with converting raw bamboo into workable construction materials would be significantly reduced, turning a greater profit for both the growers and for Rizome. An existing construction materials company, Bamcore, located in Ocala, manufactures bamboo for building dry wall.
True, the future of bamboo in Florida looks promising, but it is not without challenges. Bamboo has not been grown in large-scale commercial operations in Florida for more than a few years, and it remains to be seen what sorts of issues can arise from this fledgling crop.
However, the Florida agriculture industry is a tough breed, and whatever challenges bamboo may face in the future, this crop could prove to be an option for many struggling growers.