More than two-thirds of the county’s land area is involved in some type of agricultural production. Nearly one-third of roughly 41,000 jobs in Highlands County are related to agricultural professions.
Citrus, nursery plants, beef cattle and dairy operations are the biggest economic producers. Specialty cropping and small-acre farms are multiplying, growing caladiums, strawberries, grapes, blueberries and a wide variety of vegetables and herbs.
Highlands County is the state’s third-highest producer of citrus. Nearly 65,000 acres are planted with more than eight million citrus trees. The 2011 season produced more than 24 million, 90 pound boxes of oranges – enough to produce almost 40 million gallons of juice. The citrus accounts alone create 2,500 to 3,000 full-time, year-round jobs.
During the October to June, harvesting season, many temporary jobs are added, more than doubling the industry’s workforce.
The vast majority of the Highlands County citrus crop is used to make juice. Oranges are transported to area juice processing plants, where the final product to distributed worldwide.
Approximately 13 percent of the nutrious and tasty juice drunk in North America originated in our county.
Highlands County growers produce wonderful table-grade fruit as well, which is packed under state supervision. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, citrus has a large impact – $9.1 billion statewide – on the economy. Estimates indicate Highlands County’s economic benefits from citrus amount to more than $200 million. To say that the local citrus industry is critically important Highlands County is like saying the sun is critically important to farmers.
Growers don’t just make their mark in the economic world, as a group they are good neighbors and engaged citizens. Many are involved with community programs, and are community leaders.
The growers of Highlands County are committed to the best practices and work toward the future. As a result of education and dedication, growers in Highlands County have reduced the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other farm chemicals.
The University of Florida has a robust extension office which allows for communication and cooperation between the university, the Florida Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Growers constantly invest in research, looking for better, more efficient, safer ways to grow and harvest high quality crops.
They pay more than $5 million in annual ad valorem taxes, while receiving less than than 40 cents for every tax dollar paid. This means approximately 60 percent of the tax dollars contributed by growers benefit other county residents by keeping local property taxes low.
Nurseries Growing plants for retail nurseries is currently Florida’s fastest-growing agricultural sector. The industry in Highlands County adds more than $70 million to the local economy and is the county’s fourth-largest employer. The largest greenhouse operation in the state is here.
Plants are grown in controlled circumstances or outdoors. A wide range of plants are raised from delicate indoor plants to hardy landscape varieties. A number of local agricultural operations engage in sod, turf and forestry products. The bio-fuel industry is actively looking to grow and process a variety of plant material locally.