Florida has a rich agricultural heritage and many of our state's farmers are looking to participate in the harvesting of alternative crops. While Florida is most famous for it's growth of citrus, variety and diversity within our agricultural sector will strengthen our economy and provide new markets for our farmers to participate in.
Here are 5 alternative crops that Floridians should take into consideration:
3. Beer Hops
Hemp production is an exciting opportunity for our local farmers to utilize Florida land to venture into the growth of a new crop. Industrial hemp is not the same as marijuana and is distinguished from marijuana by its low THC content and high CBD content. Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years and is used in building material, for fiber production, and in food products. Check out these articles on industrial hemp.
One potential alternative crop Florida farmers are looking at is Cynara cardunculus, better known as artichokes. Commonly used in cooking, artichokes are a variety of thistle from which flowers can grow. The base of the flower is edible until the flowers bloom at which point the base becomes inedible. The edible portion of the artichoke, known as the “heart,” is a common ingredient that can be found in most supermarkets.
Artichokes have been cultivated here in the United States, mostly in California. But, at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, research is underway to study how artichokes could be grown here in our own state. Read more about artichokes.
3. Beer Hops:
For those familiar with the brewing industry, Hops may sound familiar. Hops are an essential ingredient in the beer making process and give the beer the distinctive bitter taste and flavor for which they are known. Many local breweries around the state have an interest in brewing beer using fresh and local hops. While a majority of Hops are grown in the Midwest regions of the country, Florida land can also be used to produce Hops.
Hops generally require 15 hours of daylight in order to reach maturity. They grow vertically very quickly and then spread out horizontally afterward. Hops grow on bines, and when harvest time comes, they are separated from the bines using a machine. After the bines have been removed and from any leaves or other debris, they are dried to reduce the moisture content from eighty percent to anywhere between eight and ten percent. Drying the Hops ensure that they do not develop mold. The Hops are then compressed, packaged, and sent out to brewers. Click here to Read more about Hops.
Pongamia trees produce beans that can be used similarly to soybeans for plant protein in food and feed ingredients. Cultivars of Pongamia yield four times the beans per acre compared to US soybeans.
Pongamia offers an excellent opportunity for Florida landowners looking for alternative crops they can scale on former citrus fields damaged by hurricanes or greening disease. Pongamia trees are resilient, tolerant to salinity, heat, flooding, and drought, and found naturally in coastal areas. Pongamia can survive being submerged in water for over a week. In contrast, most citrus trees start to suffer after 72 hours of flooding. This resilience gives farmers more time to drain fields following tropical storms or hurricanes. Pongamia is also ideal for replacing citrus because it can be planted without any significant changes made to agricultural infrastructure. Pongamia leaves and beans also have a bitter taste that makes it a natural pest repellent. These properties make Florida land perfect for venturing into the plant protein industry with Pongamia. Read more about Pongamia.
Pomegranates (Punica granatum) originated in the Eastern Hemisphere and are even featured in the Ancient Greek myth of Persephone. A red-purple fruit, the pomegranates hard shell can be cracked open to reveal the delectable cluster of juicy seeds within. Pomegranates and their juice are common ingredients in a variety of foods. Pomegranates were brought over to the Americas following the Spanish colonization and are commonly grown in California and Arizona. At the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Pomegranate Association was founded in 2012 to establish a system for Florida’s farmers to cultivate Pomegranates. Pomegranates grow in shrubs that can be up to 33 feet in height. The shrubs are known to be extremely resilient to age, with some shrubs in Europe having survived for over two centuries.