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FGCU Presents Research Findings on the Future of Agribusiness in Southwest Florida
6/5/2007

FORT MYERS, FL - Florida Gulf Coast University presents findings of a major research study on the future of agribusiness in Southwest Florida as part of its mission to serve the regional business community.

Principal investigators eminent scholar and interim dean for the Lutgert College of Business Howard Finch, and eminent scholar and professor in the Lutgert College of Business Stuart Van Auken investigated the future of citrus farming in the region. More than 25 key executives from agribusiness, real estate development, environmental concerns and politicians were interviewed to determine what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats exist for the future of farming in this region.

Following are questions and answers from the White Paper on the Future of Agribusiness in Southwest Florida:

Will there be agribusiness in Southwest Florida in the future?

Yes, the general consensus among the executives participating in these interviews is that agriculture is an important part of both the environment and the economy in this region, and it has a future role as the region grows and develops. Three factors contribute to this outlook. First, future development of lands will avoid urban sprawl, producing highly concentrated developments such as the Ave Maria community. This leads to the second factor, which is that large land tracts in the state's interior will not be developed for environmental considerations, leaving it available for continued agricultural production. Finally, the trend for large land tracts becoming more consolidated through acquisition by bigger agriculture concerns makes farming more economically viable through production economies of scale and scope.

What are the unique natural advantages of Southwest Florida farming?

Southwest Florida produces the highest quality citrus in the world. It also benefits from a three month winter growing season that is particularly beneficial for vegetables. This year-round growth season is enhanced by the advantage of overnight distribution proximity to eastern U.S. cities. The land south of Lake Okeechobee particularly, is well suited in climate and soil for sugar cane production. Finally, as the amount of aggregate land in agricultural production continues to shrink along the east coast of Florida and the Interstate 4 corridor, the relative importance of Southwest Florida agriculture grows.

What options are available to agriculture?

The options are to seek diversity within agriculture through new product development; to work on troublesome issues such as labor, harvesting, and diseases, especially in citrus. And, there is the option to work on the enhancement of land value over time. Alternatively, the option exists to sell out and leave the industry.

Will these options be sufficient to insure a future for Southwest Florida agriculture?

There are offsetting forces such as competition and labor issues, and a lot rides on the application of science and technology in generating economic efficiencies and disease cures. The trend toward high density development, however, points to the coexistence of development and ag. Concerns over the safety of our food supply will also increase the importance of domestic ag and tariffs can be manipulated to protect native agriculture.

Will an increasing concern about national security interests and food production propel ag into the spotlight?

We have in recent months seen scares over spinach, peanut butter, and pet food. The importance of organic farming continues to grow having increased 285 percent over the past ten years. Issues of bird flu and mad cow disease have been in the media spotlight. The prospects of terroristic attacks on the world's food supply cannot be discounted. All of these external considerations may serve to propel domestic agriculture into prominence. Those who remain may find themselves in a preferred industry with significant subsidies. In the short run, the key is to develop the income side to complement long-term land value and future agriculture development and production. Basically, it is a question of a short-run versus a long-run point of view.

What strategies are available to farming in Southwest Florida?

One strategy would be to actually go into development, yet most of agriculture in Southwest Florida does not have the skill set. Another is to diversify one's agriculture production or pursue agriculture production in higher-yielding areas. Sales of small land plots can also generate revenue to address the bottom line for agriculture producers and land can be enhanced in value as part of a future perspective.

Answering the question of "what business are we in," in a broader way, can also do much to lead Southwest Florida ag to higher-yielding ag opportunities. In the meantime, targeting prioritized citrus issues can help and one should recognize that ag land is not going away overnight. Even population pressures will take years to develop and in the meantime ag efficiencies, ag science, tariffs, etc. can help to solve the economic yield or return side of the equation, not to mention a possible growing concern over food safety.

For more information, media representatives should contact Howard Finch at (239) 590-7370.




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