Tropical Fruit Expansion? Know the Risks Before Planting in Central Florida

Clint ThompsonFlorida, Tropical Fruit

A row of mango trees at a Homestead orchard – the perfect setting for mango production. Courtesy UF/IFAS photography.

By Clint Thompson

Central Florida farmers interested in producing tropical fruits need to consider the risks just as much as the potential benefits of such an investment, believes one industry expert.

Jonathan Crane, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor and tropical fruit crop specialist, cautions growers about overextending their farming operations and monetary investments in an industry that is mostly found in the southern region of Florida.

“I recently talked with somebody, and they bought 400 acres of land in central Florida, and they’re planting mangoes and a whole bunch of other tropical crops,” Crane said. “The cultivars they chose, some of them just don’t do well here. It doesn’t matter where you are. We have a whole lot of people who are getting into tropical and sub-tropical fruits but yet don’t have real growing experience.”

Risky Endeavor

Crane and fellow colleagues recently held a workshop that outlined how the current climate is allowing for potential expansion. But growers need to be aware of the risks.

“We’re trying to make people aware that there’s opportunities to grow mangoes. We already know there’s over 150 acres of new avocado plantings; Martin County, Polk County, other parts of central Florida. There are mangoes up that way, Palm Beach County, Martin County; which is great. People need to be aware of the pros and the cons,” Crane said. “Temperature is probably the primary factor that they need to consider. The secondary would be the soils; soil type, soil drainage characteristics, to be sure they’re not putting them in an area that floods.”

The potential for colder temperatures in central Florida means growers need to implement cold protection tactics, especially as new trees are being planted. Older trees are more tolerant of colder weather than younger trees.

“When you start getting 32 (degrees Fahrenheit) and below, especially 28, 27 degrees, if you have unprotected small trees, you’re going to kill most of the tropical fruit species, if they’re not protected properly. But if you have 15-year-old trees, they’re going to take more cold. They’ll take maybe down to 26, 24,” Crane said. “That doesn’t tell you how many times or if it gets much colder than that. There’s a lot of variables.

“Sometimes trees can withstand 20 degrees for an hour but get killed by four nights at 32.”

Potential Benefits

If producers properly consider the risks, they can potentially reap the benefits of an industry in high demand.

“The demand for avocados seems to be increasing,” Crane said. “For mangoes, there is a huge audience for what I would call specialty varieties. We can grow varieties that no one else is growing. If you know your mango varieties, and there are a lot of people interested in alternative mango varieties, there is a market for it. People want high quality mangoes.”