South Florida’s Tropical Agriculture: Current Status, Potential Future


Dr. Bruce Schaffer

University of Florida, IFAS, Tropical Research and Education Center

Homestead, FL



South Florida is defined as the southern end of the Florida Peninsula i.e., from Lake Okeechobee south and arbitrarily consists of 14 counties with diverse and vibrant agriculture. There are an estimated 9995 farms on 1.2 million hectares with an estimated market value of $3.3 Bn US. South Florida accounts for 21%, 31%, and 45% of Florida’s farms, farm hectares, and market value, respectively. Main traditional enterprises include nursery, agronomic (e.g., sugarcane, forage), livestock, fruit and vegetable crops and aquaculture. Each of these enterprises consists of numerous crops (or animal types) and hundreds of species. Unfortunately, census data does not capture the hugely significant landscape maintenance, agricultural tourism and value-added industries. The ethnic background of the producers includes Caucasian-, Latin-X-, Black (African and Caribbean)-, Asian-, and mixed-race-Americans. The majority of farms (≥58%) are operated by part-time farmers, on average 39% of the farms are owned/operated by females, and about 31% of the farmers are new and/or beginning farmers. Of the new and beginning farmers, 16% are under 35-years-old and 18% are 65 years old or older. In particular, Miami-Dade County stands out with about 2752 farms, only 78543 hectares but with the second largest market value (~$838 million US) out of Florida’s 67 counties. Why? Because of the value of the crops (animals) grown, the marine, monsoon, warm-hot subtropical climate (Köppen-Geiger: Am-Aw), the entrepreneurship of the farming community, the expertise and ethnic diversity of the farming community, and the close link among the farming community and the state’s land grant university, the University of Florida’s research, extension and teaching programs. More details will be discussed in the presentation.

Bruce Schaffer is a professor of Plant Physiology in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Tropical Research and Education Center (UF-TREC) in Homestead, Florida.  He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Entomology with a second major in Zoology and an M.S. degree in Forest Biology from Colorado State University.  He received a Ph.D. degree in Horticultural Sciences with a concentration in Plant Physiology, from Virginia Tech University.  He was then as Postdoctoral Associate in Biology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.  For more than 30 years at UF-TREC, Dr. Schaffer’s program has focused ecophysiology physiology of numerous subtropical and tropical horticultural crops, including vanilla.  A major part of research focuses on quantifying the effects of environmental factors including temperature, flooding, drought, light, wind, salinity on plant physiology, growth and yield.  He also has had numerous interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with entomologists, plant pathologist, soil scientists, and ecologists to quantify the impacts of biotic factors including insects and diseases on subtropical and tropical horticultural plants.  The ultimate goal of this research is to identify plant species and or cultivars that are tolerant to abiotic and biotic stresses.