The Big Ag Pivot: Bamboo’s Role in Florida Farming

Florida has become the number one state in the country that people move to. As a result, our agriculture industry is already struggling to compete against foreign imports and combating invasive pests. Prime agriculture land is being developed into subdivisions, roadways, and is struggling to find valuable crops to compete with developer land values.

It has become obvious that Florida farming needs to pivot into alternative high-value crops. What are the largest industries in Florida? Agriculture, construction, aerospace & aviation, health services, biotech, and tourism. Many of these industries have become interdependent and yet farming seems to stand alone. Increasingly farmers are not only asked to be the grower but also the harvester, the manufacturer, and the retailer. Is there a crop that allows farmers to innovate while focusing on what they do best? A crop that integrates the agricultural sector with other aspects of Florida’s economy? I believe yes. Let’s explore the untapped value of bamboos.

Future trends in agriculture include nutrient-dense foods, precision farming techniques, water uses, clean-growing techniques, and reduced shipping or hyper-local usage.

Florida farms require diversification to reduce risk as was powerfully evident in the wake of citrus greening. When we think of growing bamboos, the key is to not focus on the low-percentage crops like shoots and poles, but to form partnerships with other industries to add value to these harvests. Superfood powders from bamboo shoots, nutraceutical formulas from bamboo leaves, flame resistance, bullet-proof engineered products from bamboo fibers, mineral-rich soil supplements from bamboo biochar, and bio-fertilizers from bamboo extracts.

Partnering with other industries also endears those entities to farming and the health of its future. Florida could easily become the grower, manufacturer, and distributor of high-tech engineered laminates designed by UF, powerful formulated herbal extracts prescribed at AdventHealth, and the leader in soil tech and clean farming practices.

Integration is key and bamboos are the grasses of Florida’s farming future. So how do we begin? We start with partnerships and state funding. We ask for investment in manufacturing along with dedicated teams at UF in the engineering departments and health sciences. We trial different bamboos in different parts of the state to determine which plants grow best under what conditions. There are 1,700 known bamboos; each one is unique. Timber, health, food, forage, fertilizer, and carbon sequestration are just a few of bamboo’s uses. The key to a healthy bamboo industry is value-added products that focus on the highest uses of bamboos. 

Florida can be a pioneer in future farming showcasing a new way to grow in America. Let’s work together to ensure a thriving tomorrow.

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