From fabrics to pharmaceuticals, bamboo is a growth industry, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. According to Grandview Research, the global bamboo market is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent annually to $88 billion by 2030.
For the Florida growers, bamboo is becoming an attractive option especially after the 2022 hurricanes and the continuing battle with citrus greening disease.
Bamboo does have a lot of advantages: It is the fastest-growing plant on the planet and provides a renewable supply of timber. Bamboo produces more oxygen than trees and gathers carbon at a higher rate than trees. As a building material — from flooring, to paneling, to beams and beyond, treated bamboo has twice the compression strength of concrete and roughly the same strength-to-weight ratio of steel.
While the largest segment of the bamboo industry is based in Asia, there is a growing movement to create a U.S.-based industry to meet domestic demand, leading to lower prices for consumers and an alternative — as well as hardy and regenerative — crop for growers.
Fred Murrell, the chairman of Rizome, a Bradenton company, wants to expand the bamboo industry in the Sunshine State.
Rizome built its first facility manufacturing bamboo in the Philippines where it planted 25,000 acres of bamboo. Now, the company has plans to initiate a similar operation to Florida.
“We know we can make Florida a leader in strand-woven bamboo products,” says Murrell. “We believe we can have the factory built before the bamboo is planted so growers don’t have to worry about selling the bamboo they Produce.”
In order to do that, though, Murrell and Rizome will need help from the growers. James Paul of Labelle has taken the lead. A longtime, generational grower, Paul has diversified from Citrus to other crops over the years, including bamboo.
For him, it’s a matter of survival — not just of the crops, but the soil.
“My main concern in all I do is using moral and ethical processes that will protect and regenerate the soil so that it can become healthier and more productive for the future,” he says. In order to learn what kind of bamboo grows best in Florida, Paul planted more than 15 different types to see which one works best in Florida’s climate. Some of those plantings have grown to 70 feet tall.
“James has proven that we can successfully grow high Quality bamboo in Florida,” says Murrell. “And, like James, we are committed to restorative planting practices.”
But for a bamboo industry to expand, it’s about more than just knowing which strains grow the best, according to Paul.
“The key for me is to make the whole process as automated as possible in order to cut down on labor costs,” says Paul. “Labor costs have grown so much in the past few years.”