Although the economy hasn't totally bounced back the way we wish it would, Florida is seeing some improvements in the home sales and construction industry and this is good news for the agricultural industry, on the state level as well as the local level.
Robbins Nurseries in Sebring has good news to report. "Sales are up about 15 percent from last year," explained Bobby Heffner, the nursery's owner. Thanks to new home sales and sales of foreclosed homes, new landscaping packages are what many customers are looking for when they stop in to shop. "We are selling a lot of woody ornamentals and trees, as well as a lot of annuals, like geraniums.
"The increase in business makes you feel optimistic," added Heffner.
Heffner's optimism is measurable. According to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations, statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 18,490 in September. This figure is up 18.8 percent compared to last year's figure during the same month.
"As the housing market sector improves and new construction expands there is a causal effect on our horticulture industries in a number of areas," said Dan Sleep, supervisor and senior analyst, Division of Marketing and Development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Sleep explained that a general rule of thumb is that for every $100,000 in home sales, there are approximately $1,200 in purchases for sod, plants and shrubs. "For example, a new homeowner purchasing a $250,000 house might spend $3,000 beautifying the yard with sod, and bushes, as well as establishing a flower garden or other focal points; for instance, adding a more expensive native tree or two," said Sleep.
Florida ships significant amounts of foliage out to the rest of the United States, so as the home buying increases across the country, the state is positively affected.
Even for Florida homeowners that are not moving, they are still impacting the industry. On average, several hundred dollars per year is spent on plants and yard improvements. And, so, as the economy inches forward, so do the sales.
Florida's horticulture industry, as a whole, had sales of approximately $1.7 billion in 2010 and $1.8 billion in 2011. "Normally, for each million dollars in added greenhouse, nursery and floriculture sales, this economic shift makes a positive impact in the generation of about $2.7 million in total economic activity, while 24 jobs are created and around $80,000 in indirect tax revenues are produced," said Sleep, who explained that all told, a $100 million increase probably helped 2,400 Floridians land jobs and that's the real impact of an expanding sales environment.
Besides the increase in woody ornamentals sales and new landscaping that Robbins Nurseries are experiencing, and the overall increase in statewide greenhouse, nursery and floriculture sales, potted plant sales are also up. Potted plant sales are a good gauge as to how the Florida horticulture industry is generally faring.
This especially rang true when the housing market collapsed in 2008. At that point, Florida potted plants recorded $326 million at wholesale, which was about a $120 million decline. This was nearly a 10-year low point dating back to 1999. This decline is now on the increase and by 2012, the preliminary results reported $426 million, representing the fourth straight year this part of the industry has experienced increases. "This puts potted plant sales back at pre-housing market collapse sales levels."
Moreover, in 2011, total cash receipts for all agricultural products achieved a historic high of $8.26 billion. "That increase is certainly indicative of the strength that Florida agriculture provides to our state's economy," said Sleep.