With so much grove land, commercial citrus production in Polk County makes a significant contribution to the economic impact of the region’s agribusiness sector, which makes up about $3 billion in sales each year. The Polk County is the second largest county in the state of Florida for citrus production with more than 71,000 acres of producing citrus land. In fact, Polk citrus groves could fit 10 Walt Disney World Resorts (including the parking lots) inside of it, and still have room to spare.
Where does Polk County citrus fall in the national rankings for production? Third, according to data provided by USDA Census of Agriculture, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (Regional Economic Information System), and research methods in a study published by the University of Florida-IFAS, Food and Resource Economics Department in Gainesville, Florida.
Despite citrus greening disease and its unprecedented challenges, Polk County growers and fellow stakeholders have made it their business to ensure the future of Polk’s thriving citrus industry. In fact, recent diversification and innovative practices indicate that agriculture productivity is increasing. No one knows that better than agribusiness in Polk County, specifically companies such as The Story Companies.
The Story Companies, which has its roots in citrus, has actually increased business by 22 percent in the last decade. “What we have been able to do is to expand into new markets to provide similar services,” says Kyle Story, vice president of the Lake Wales agribusiness.
The Story family now has its business footprint in the peach, blueberry, strawberry, watermelon, zucchini, and blackberry industries, all valuable crops in the Florida agribusiness sector. “This allows us to become better farmers because we’re learning new things every day,” he explains. “What we learn growing blueberries we can relatively apply to citrus and peaches. What we know works on citrus, on certain soils, we can apply to the other commodities.”
Focusing on solutions rather than the problem, the Story family business has taken steps to accommodate a diversifying Florida citrus industry. “There’s nothing that we do in our business today that we did the same 15 years ago,” he points out. “We have had to change every single part of our operation.”
At The Story Companies, they attribute part of their recent success to keeping their sights set on the latest trends and advances, putting aside tradition and sentiment. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model. You have to be up to the challenge, boots on the ground every day,” Story says. “You have to be ready to tackle whatever challenge is going to be ahead of you— and make it an opportunity.”