Fruits & Nuts: Overview

fruits & nutsFlorida's subtropical climate provides a unique opportunity for production of high-value alternative fruit and nut crops for local and niche markets, and for off-season production of traditional crops during periods of limited supply and high demand. Some deciduous fruit and nut crops grown commercially in Florida are blueberry, chestnut, grape (muscadine), pecan, persimmon, and peach. South Florida's subtropical climate allows for production of numerous subtropical and tropical fruit crops including avocado, lime, mango, carambola, and lychee. The combined acreage of deciduous and subtropical/tropical fruit and nut crops in Florida is approximately 30,000 acres. Crop value per acre varies widely, from approximately $36,000 per acre for early season blueberries to about $500 per acre for pecans.

Marketing is one of the most critical decisions that can determine the success or failure of an alternative agricultural enterprise. Small farmers use a variety of marketing techniques including direct on-farm sales, farmers' markets, community supported agriculture, roadside marketing, supermarkets, restaurants, and fruit brokerages. In some cases, such as with blueberry, commercial marketing channels exist in Florida. In other cases, growers may have to develop their markets.

Some fruit crops, such as blueberry, can be grown and marketed in Florida during early-season market windows that currently belong exclusively to Florida. These crops are potentially profitable in commercial market channels. Blueberries grown in Florida and marketed from April 1 through May 15 have averaged more than $5.00 per pound compared to about $1.00 per pound for berries harvested during June and July, which is the major blueberry production season for most of North America. During the last decade, many Florida growers have identified blueberry as a profitable alternative crop and commercial blueberry production in Florida has more than doubled.

Some alternative fruit and nut crops are grown and sold locally. Examples include peach, plum, persimmon, mid-season rabbiteye blueberry, muscadine grape, and blackberry. In such cases, considerable attention must be paid to developing a marketing strategy.

Each alternative fruit or nut crop provides it own unique set of challenges and considerations. Some high-value crops (e.g., blueberry) are expensive to establish and grow. Others, such as pecan, are slow to bear and require many years to recover initial investment costs. Generally, fruit and nut crops are not as mechanized as other agricultural crops and require large inputs of skilled, seasonal labor. Fewer pesticides are approved for use on alternative fruit and nut crops when compared to traditional agronomic crops.

As with any agricultural enterprise, weather plays an important role in the success or failure of fruit and nut production in Florida. Highly variable winter temperatures (intermittent warm and cold periods), late spring freezes, excessive rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes, high humidity, and periods of drought can contribute to crop losses during any given year.

Alternative fruit and nut crops may provide opportunities for small farms to increase their profitability compared to production of traditional crops. Small farm size may limit production and marketing efficiencies that larger operations enjoy. However, production and marketing of specialty and organically grown crops to local and niche markets may provide new sales opportunities. When selecting an alternative fruit or nut crop, prospective growers should consider the many advantages and disadvantages of each within the context of their farming operations.