We have taken the reader-tourist on a long detour, but since we are examining Florida agriculture down to the roots, as it were, let us return to our typical agricultural region, Volusia County.
Other fruits besides citrus which this county grows include chiefly strawberries and grapes. In this part of Florida strawberries are planted from September to November, the berries harvested from December to May, with a yield of around 2,000 quarts an acre and an average net profit running up sometimes as high as $250 an acre. The production of grapes is limited, but the few vineyards in the county report production of two and a half tons or more to the acre of vines at an average profit, with a minimum outlay for care and cultivation, of around $100.
String beans are a highly important crop in Volusia County as they are elsewhere in Florida. They come to maturity in from eight to ten weeks after planting and can be counted upon, unless damaged by frost, which rarely occurs, to yield $50 or more net profit per acre. This is not as high as the average return in sections farther South, where beans mature earlier and catch the higher prices, but it is not a bad return, especially in view of the fact that the same land can be used twice over again during the year.
The typical Florida vegetable farm, engaged in what in the North is called market gardening, is a three-crop farm. The farmer takes little chance of loss who plants a spring crop after the frost deadline has passed, follows that with a summer crop harvested in the early fall and then takes a chance on a winter bonanza crop on which he may win big stakes if the frost doesn’t catch him; and if it does he has still made a profit on the year’s operations if he has not plunged too deeply and has given his fields proper attention and fertilization.
The latter is highly important everywhere in Florida, and is one of the most difficult lessons for the northern farmer to learn. Accustomed to spreading a few hundred pounds of com mercial fertilizer on an acre of land, it seems shockingly extravagant to the newcomer from the fertile black loam of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys to lavish fertilizer at the rate of a ton to a ton-and-a-half per acre. But considering the yield and the cash return, the cost of fertilizer in Florida is no higher proportionately than in the North. California is experimenting with “tank farming” in which crops are grown with no soil at all, merely tanks of water in which the fertilizing elements are held in solution. Even the very poorest Florida sand will grow crops luxuriantly if fed with sufficient fertilizer and water. Care has to be exercised in the selection and use of fertilizers, which must be chemically adjusted to the soil as well as to the crop. The fertilizer industry is one of Florida’s principal lines of business, and many farmers have their special fertilizers made up to order from specifications prepared by research chemists of the State College of Agriculture after an exhaustive soil analysis.
How valuable scientific tests are was demonstrated when the tomato crop suddenly failed, in a tract of several thousand acres which had previously been an important tomato produc ing center. Nobody could account for the failure of the tomatoes to mature as usual until the chemists of the Agricultural College analyzed the soil and, comparing the result with previous tests, discovered that the infinitesimal copper content which the soil had previously carried had been exhausted. A special fertilizer formula, containing a minute fraction of copper salts, was prepared and applied and the district came back into the front rank of tomato producers.