Although often ignored, it's no secret that Florida's agriculture industries face some daunting challenges in the coming years. Traditional Florida crops, such as citrus, are failing. While other crops, such as sugarcane, are thriving but at a steep environmental cost. Florida is a great place to be a farmer. We have abundant rainfall and sunshine, and many crops can be cultivated year-round. However, environmental and market challenges have put a damper on Florida Ag. The incurable citrus greening disease, (huanglongbing or HLB), has caused wholesale devastation to Florida's citrus industry, which employs upwards of 45,000 workers has an $8.6B annual impact on the state's economy. The disease is a bacteria spread by a few species of tiny psyllid flies.To illustrate just how dire the situation has become, here's a look at the numbers.
Abandoned Citrus Grove Near Lakeland, FL.
Yield, profitability, and production have suffered precipitous declines year over year, and there is little forecasted relief for Florida's citrus growers. Aside from the ails of Florida's historic citrus crop, are other ecological blunders which have caused havoc on other industries, including the most important: tourism.
In both 2017 and 2018, the southwest and southeast coasts of Florida were plagued by devastating algae blooms that caused substantial fish kills and environmental damage. Similar events occurred in 2016 and 2017 in the Indian River Lagoon system, causing losses to fisheries and wildlife over a 200-mile expanse of coastline. The cause of these toxic algae blooms is nutrient runoff into waterways, which eventually drain into the ocean. While a significant amount of runoff can be attributed to non-agricultural causes, such as housing developments, storm water, waste water and golf courses, agriculture remains a primary contributor to nutrient pollution. Responsible agricultural practices, such as establishing cover crops or buffer zones, can minimize the impact of nutrient runoff. But, so long as crops require fertilizers in order to thrive, nutrient pollution will continue to be problem. A study from Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute found that from 1987-1992, toxic algae blooms cost local coastal economies an average of $450M per year. These figures are considerably higher in areas where fisheries and tourism are concurrently impacted.
Dead marine life in a canal in Southwest Florida.
Florida faces real challenges in its massive agricultural markets, but challenges can present opportunities to implement lasting beneficial changes. Enter the Yaupon. Native to Florida, and widely cultivated for horticultural use, Yaupon is also North America's only native source of caffeine. A cup of Yaupon tea can contain 60mg of caffeine and theobromine. Yaupon is also a potent antioxidant "superfood," containing an average 30% higher antioxidant values than regular tea, (camellia sinensis). And while Yaupon is obscure in the Florida landscape, it has a rich history of consumption by Florida's native people going back millennia. This accompanied by the fact that it tastes great, means there is real market potential for Yaupon.
At least nine suppliers are now selling Yaupon in the United States, including three in Florida. These groups established the non-profit American Yaupon Association in 2018 to help stoke demand for this ancient herbal tea, and to establish cooperative marketing initiatives. Because it's our only native caffeine source, Yaupon is poised to compete robustly for a share of both the local food market and tea market, which are worth about $20B annually in US sales. 157 million Americans drink tea everyday, and virtually all of it is imported from other countries. If even a small fraction of those consumers switched to Yaupon, a robust Florida industry could result, filling several voids in the agricultural landscape.
If these weren't reasons enough to stoke enthusiasm for Yaupon, consider also the environmental benefits of cultivating a native crop in Florida. Yaupon doesn't need much in the way of soil amendments, and can get along fine without expensive fertilizers. This means less nutrient runoff into our waterways. Yaupon is not susceptible to pests or diseases, which means pesticides and potentially harmful chemicals are rarely needed. Yaupon isn't sensitive to frost or salt, which means it won't freeze and can be grown near the ocean. Yaupon is drought-tolerant, meaning it doesn't require excessive irrigation. Yaupon can provide a yield and profit margin equal to or greater than citrus, and it doesn't need as much care and attention.
The question that remains is will American consumers catch on? Will they demand Yaupon in a big way and stimulate a new alternative crop for southern farmers? We believe Yaupon has a bright future in Florida, and that it will help our growers recover while offering consumers exciting and beneficial products.
What do you think?
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(386)-566-3826. Interested in growing Yaupon? We have incentive programs available for a limited number of growers. Contact us to learn more!
American Yaupon Association- www.YauponGrowers.com