Farms in South Miami-Dade County produce most of the winter vegetables for the nation. In the summer, other crops take center stage, including mangos and other fruits. Tom Rieder, a member of the Dade County Farm Bureau, said farming is the county’s second largest industry.
“It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life,” Rieder said. “Some of them [farmers] have gone to college, some have PhD’s. It’s become difficult because of the free trade agreement and with the price of rents.” Rieder should know, he’s a Realtor at Rieder Realty, specializing in agricultural real estate, working the agricultural side of the business from Orlando south.
“I’ve been doing this for a little over 40 years,” he said. “Agriculture has always been my focus. There are some real problems they are having now. This free trade with Mexico…”
Another problem is who is going to pick the crops. The anti-immigration rhetoric and strong anti-immigrant laws passed in Alabama and other Southern states have scared away many migrant workers. Crops are often picked by undocumented immigrants who are willing to do jobs that Americans won’t.
“There are a lot of people who physically can’t go out there and pick crops for 8-10 hours a day,” Rieder said. “The farming down here is different from the rest of the state. Most of our fields down here you get two crops a year.”
Those crops can be beans, tomatoes, squash and zucchini. Rieder said they are starting to see some farmers growing sugar cane on land that ordinarily wouldn’t be used for farming but does very well for sugar cane.
Along with vegetable and fruit crops, the Redland and Homestead areas also are home to land and container nurseries.
“One of our nurseries, Costa is probably one of the largest in the country,” Rieder said. “We have a type of soil named marl. It holds the moisture and, because it does not have much rock in it, it’s easy for the farmers to root prune.”
The soil clings to the roots, which helps keep the plants and trees alive and thriving while in the containers. It also helps when the tree is transplanted.
However, the nursery business is tied to construction.
“When construction fell off, so did the inground nursery business,” he said. “The container nurseries, they are shipping them all over the world. They’ve created a market.”
The advantages of farming in South Miami-Dade include access to water and land that is less susceptible to frost.
Rieder said the Farm Bureau is encouraging farmers to look at the idea of selling produce directly to the consumer.
“We’re trying to come up with a method of being able to sell direct, trying to contact restaurants and clubs,” he said. “We can provide fresh fruits at a better price.”
There also are bus tours available. Those tours take the people to packing houses and they can buy fruits and vegetables right there. “Most produce goes to Lakeland and is packed and brought back down to Miami,” Rieder said.
Farmers work closely with the Farm Bureau and the Farm Bureau works closely with the agriculture extension offices of the University of Florida on a variety of issues, including pesticides.
One of the most recent issues farmers have been alerted to is the Redbay Ambrosia Beetle, which is harmful to avocado trees. Rieder said farmers in the region are trying to get federal funding for experimenting with new types of farming, like hydroponic farming, that could allow row crops to grow year round.