Five days a week, Gainesville residents are treated to a real taste of the town.
Seven different farmers markets from 13th Street to High Springs bring in the freshest produce, locally made crafts and other goods for sale to the crowding public. Each day, folks head for the markets to save money or browse unique products or just to have a good time.
The farmers markets have become expected – week after week, they appear with more of what people love. But they symbolize a small part of something much bigger at play in Gainesville’s thriving economy.
The agriculture industry plays an important role in Gainesville’s economic identity and wellbeing. Here and all over Alachua County, people find employment, ownership and even fulfillment in the work they do to keep this sector cultivating a stronger community.
AGRICULTURE IN ALACHUA
According to a report produced in 2013 on “Economic Impacts of Agriculture in Alachua County” by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), “Alachua County may be known as the ‘Home of the Gators,’ but agriculture is one of its economic pillars.”
The report ranks agriculture as the third largest employer in the county – accounting for over 37,000 jobs, or 23 percent of the county’s workforce – fourth in total value added of all industries and fifth among industry groups in total output.
Agriculture also supports local business, including banking, real estate, legal services, transportation, packaging, food distributors, marketing firms and agriculture related business.
According to the report, “Every dollar of sales from agriculture products generates an additional $1.80 of business sales in other parts of the county’s economy.”
With 54 percent of the county’s land – or about 340,000 acres – dedicated to agriculture, the industry has played a significant role in the real estate business and in generating revenue. According to the UF/IFAS report, over $180 million in revenue came from property, sales and fuel taxes associated with agricultural activities. That means for every acre in agricultural land, about $530 was generated in tax revenue alone.
The UF/IFAS also reported the total value of livestock at over $27 million and crop value, including nurseries and greenhouses, at over $65 million.
The industry, however, has done more than bring in revenue. It continues to contribute to the economy through job creation and in keeping the economy healthy and strong.
CREATING JOBS AND CONTRIBUTING TO GDP
An economic impact analysis of Florida counties in 2011 produced by the IFAS outlined just how much the agricultural industry has done for Alachua County’s economy.
According to the “Profile of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Food Industries in Florida Counties in 2011,” total employment in the industry reached 27,000 jobs, and the total value added, or GDP, was over $1 billion.
Alan Hodges, an extension scientist in the Food and Resource Economics Department of the UF/IFAS, said it’s important to note these numbers included food distribution activities, such as restaurants and retail food stores. The numbers for “core activities of crop, livestock and forestry production” came in at about 3,000 jobs and $121 million in added value contribution to GDP, or about 11 percent of total agricultural jobs and 12 percent of value added.
As Cindy Sanders, the Alachua County Extension director and livestock agent, UF/IFAS explained, the agricultural industry – especially local farmers markets and other niche areas – contribute to creating local jobs. Folks hire people to take them to the markets or work as laborers and land managers. Or they look for people to manage stands for produce and other products.
Because of agriculture in Gainesville, people have a wider range of opportunities within the industry as well as in areas that benefit from a thriving agricultural identity.
On the statewide scale, the impact on Florida’s economy was even more apparent, according to a report on “Economic Contributions of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Food Industries in Florida in 2011.”
Total industry output or sales revenues reached over $130 billion, and direct added-value was more than $60 billion, accounting for 8.5 percent of Florida’s total GDP. Food service establishments, like restaurants and bars, and retail food stores, however, again accounted for a majority, including over 40 percent of total revenue.
SMALL FARMS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE
Yet even on the small scale, Gainesville and Alachua County residents can see for themselves just how much agriculture means to the community.
According to the 2013 report on agriculture’s economic impacts, 98 percent of Alachua County farms are small farms, and 88 percent are individually or family owned.
Sanders said small farms are classified as less than 100 acres. Though small on their own, these farms add up to play an important role in the local economy as well as the identity of Gainesville.
Though large farms make up the majority of the roughly $250 million in value added to Alachua County, Sanders said, the small farms account for about 30 to 40 percent – they’re important for local agriculture, and they’re important to keeping the local farming niche going in Gainesville and in the rest of the economy.
“There’s a market for those smaller producers,” she said.
Purchasing vegetables and other products from large farms is difficult because these farms package and ship most of their products for more commercial use, Sanders explained. Therefore, local farmers keep demand for locally grown produce high and are able to take advantage of farmers markets, “you-pick” programs and roadside stands.
These small farmers may have a tough job, considering they now must compete with global and national brands during a tough economic time, but they are not alone.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services introduces a technological aspect to the agricultural world. On the FDACS website, small farmers are able to reach a much wider consumer base – via the Florida Market Bulletin – than they might have by appealing only to local markets.
According to the FDACS website, “The Florida Market Bulletin provides the state’s agricultural community with regular access to a statewide advertising forum. Small farmers who otherwise could not afford statewide exposure are able to advertise to buy or sell agriculture-related items in the Market Bulletin.”
Farmers who use the bulletin pay no fees and are expected to meet specific standards or abide by laws associated with a particular area of agricultural activity. For example, beekeepers offering bees for sale must be registered with the FDACS and provide their registration numbers in the advertisements.
Sanders said the UF/IFAS has tried to create something similar, but she doesn’t believe it has quite taken off as was hoped. But when these resources are properly and effectively used, the advantage in marketing makes a big difference.
“The small farmers that are doing well,” she said, “whether they’re at the livestock market or have their own roadside stands and have businesses, those that are doing well have really done a good job of marketing.”
Nevertheless, Sanders thinks the local agricultural industry would have a lot to gain through stronger marketing strategies using the online tools available today.
“Marketing is the one issue that I don’t think has been neglected, but probably really needs to be worked on for these small farmers,” she said. “They’ve really got to find their market.”
For those able to keep up with the changing times, the times have been good to them – niche markets are capitalized on, organic and locally grown products draw in the younger generations and buying locally has drawn in bigger business for others in the county. This drive to grow, develop and change with the world around it has brought the agricultural industry to an economic forefront in this area. And this is only the beginning.
RESEARCH AND THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In a city like Gainesville, home to a nationally ranked research institution, the agricultural industry’s economic impact doesn’t stop at the production level.
The UF/IFAS encourages endeavors and research in the industry through programs like the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, creates jobs and works to educate those involved in agriculture and those outside of it. With the help of government funding and other sponsors, the UF/IFAS is able to continue to play a significant role in Gainesville’s agriculture industry and in contributing to the general body of knowledge that exists today. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year alone, the UF/IFAS spent about $139 million on research activities.
In an email discussing the role research plays in the industry and city economy, Hodges, whose areas of research includes regional economic impact analysis, said research has a large, positive impact but takes a more indirect form.
Rather than direct output of farm commodities, he explained, the impact of research is mostly in supporting services, including improved production practices, new crop cultivars and new technologies.
“While IFAS research and education facilities do have some direct production of agricultural products, it is incidental to our service mission,” Hodges said in the email. “It is relatively minor in comparison to private commercial producers.
Hodges said the primary economic impact is the generation of labor income and spending by IFAS faculty and staff who live in Gainesville. Researchers and other staff members employed by the IFAS contribute to Gainesville’s economy through consumer spending and costs associated with living in or around the city. By attracting people interested in this area of research, the IFAS effectively brings new families to the area and builds the community financially by increasing demand for goods and services.
THE BIG PICTURE
A thriving and growing agricultural sector is a big part of what makes Gainesville the kind of city it is.
Its economic impact on the city is extensive and positive, bringing attention to the industry and the fields it’s fostered on – right in its residents’ backyards. With modern innovations, farmers continue to keep pace with new technologies and work together with local businesses to ensure everyone benefits in the end.
Without the agricultural industry, it’s difficult to say what the city’s economy would look like. Gainesville, though, certainly couldn’t be the same without it.