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One-fifth of Florida's agricultural lands could be paved over by 2070

Agriculture workers adjust a trellis to support bitter melon
Marta Lavandier
/
AP
Agriculture workers adjust a trellis to support bitter melon, Sept. 5 in Homestead.

Much of Florida's history has been defined by what we grow — think oranges, winter vegetables, timber and cattle. But a new study says the state's ongoing development could threaten much of that heritage.

Florida's agriculture has traditionally been one of the biggest drivers of the state's economy. But a new report says rampant development may threaten its future.

Roughly one-third of Florida’s land is currently in agriculture. But if current development trends continue, about 120 acres of agricultural land a day – or almost 45,000 acres a year – will be paved over by 2070.

Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at the University of Florida, spoke recently during a webinar hosted by the smart-growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida.

"We could see as many as 12 million more people in Florida by 2070, and if we keep growing the way we grow now, sprawling growth patterns, low density, we could lose 3.5 million acres of land to development," he said. "And that could include 2.2 million acres - or almost 20% - of Florida's agricultural lands by 2070."

"Agricultural lands in Florida have important conservation values, as well as agricultural value. Important for the economy, important for our food security," Hoctor said. "We're losing that ag land quickly. We're threatening our ability for ag to be an important part of our economy, and more importantly, we're threatening our food security."

He said the best way to forestall this loss is to concentrate development in urban areas, like infill and increased density.

According to the report, Florida’s agricultural lands protect water supply and quality, provide flood control, support climate resilience, sequester carbon, shelter wildlife, and promote outdoor recreation.

Agriculture is also a cornerstone of Florida’s economy. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the direct economic contributions of the agriculture, natural resource, and food industries in 2019 included $106 billion in sales and 1,279,638 jobs.

This report and downloadable maps are available at 1000fof.org/ag2040-2070

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.