Could olives be the next big thing for citrus producers? The Hardee County Industrial Development Authority (HCIDA) has started a new venture to facilitate diversity in agriculture production in light of citrus greening. HCIDA has a 264-acre tract of land, with a majority of acreage set aside for industrial development, called Commerce Park. It houses manufacturing companies, including many agricultural entities, like a Keyplex manufacturing plant and a Howard Fertilizer distribution point. On the surplus land that is not being used by the industrial park, the Hardee Economic Council has decided to try to assist agriculture partners and economic development in the community.
The council has begun efforts by putting up demonstration test plots of a variety of plants. It wants to present various options for citrus growers to diversify their agricultural portfolios and provide complementary information to the research being done at the University of Florida. The council chose to primarily grow olives and has plantedaround 1,200 olive trees of 18 commonly grown varieties. Along with olives, it has planted eight different varieties of pomegranates, hop cultivars developed in Florida, and Pongamia pinnata. Pongamia pinnata is commonly used as a cattle feed for its high protein content, but has also been found to have oils with insecticidal and fungicidal properties.
A large variety of cultivars have been planted, but the main concentration is olives. Bill Lambert, director of economic development in Hardee County, says that there should be no issue with growing olives in Florida with proper management of nutritional programs to enable the plants to flower and fruit.
The whole purpose behind this project is to give various options to growers to enhance and diversify their agriculture portfolio. The council is using a grower’s mentality to produce the olives, with the objective being to study practical aspects of production. This includes cost of production converted to cash flow to provide growers with an idea of what their return on investment would be. There is a large market for olives worldwide, including the United States, where almost 98 percent of olive oil is imported. This offers a great opportunity for production in the United States, for not only olive oil, but for gourmet and table olives.
Olive plants can grow in Florida, and now it is time to test their production abilities in the state. The idea is that olives will be a major complement to citrus producers. “It never hurts to diversify. It is just not good to have all your eggs in one basket,” concludes Lambert.
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