Florida Growers Consider Bamboo Potential

Jim Rogers Alternative Crops

An event in Lake Placid, Florida, on the potential of bamboo as an alternative commercial crop drew a large turnout of growers. Citrus growers, in particular, are interested in crops that could go on marginal grove land until a more viable solution to HLB comes along.

A big crowd turned out in Lake Placid to learn about bamboo’s potential as an alternative crop in Florida.

Bamboo might fill that need, according to Phillip Rucks, owner of Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery. Rucks is also the founder of Florida Grown Specialties, which helps growers interested in establishing a bamboo planting.

He has been trialing varieties and studying the economics of the crop and says it’s worth a look from growers interested in developing a new revenue stream on their farm. He’s identified several varieties that will fit Florida’s environment with the right management.

The crop has a multitude of uses. The young shoots of bamboo are nutritious and popular with consumers. With Florida’s population diversity, there’s a strong market demand already in place.

According to Bobby Wani, CEO of Miami-based International Specialty Produce, locally grown fresh shoots would be a hit with consumers over the bamboo shoots that are imported mostly from Asia. By the time the shoots reach the United States, their quality is greatly reduced when compared to those grown in Florida. He said his company would be very interested in marketing local bamboo shoots if enough volume of quality product is grown.

Lumber and wood products are another big market for bamboo. Fred Murrell, a representative of Rizome, spoke to attendees about intentions to expand the company’s presence in Florida. The company, based in Florida and the Philippines, manufactures lumber products using bamboo.

“We are planning on building a plant in Florida that will make a compressed wood (using bamboo) because it uses the least amount of labor,” Murrell said. “The one thing that concerns us about Florida is the high cost of labor. We will need about 300 acres of bamboo initially to feed the plant to make this compressed wood material.”

Growers will be able to sell both the shoots for food, and later as plants mature, larger poles (or culms) for lumber. The establishment costs for planting and first-year caretaking for clumping bamboo are in the $6,000 range (on established grove land with irrigation already in place), but plantings can start showing per-acre net returns by year three for shoots. Those returns increase yearly as plants mature and grow. By year six, plants can be netting nearly $4,000 per acre (for shoots), according to data presented by Rucks. 

Bamboo also is very effective at sequestering carbon, so it will present opportunities for growers to benefit from voluntary carbon markets. Kimberly Lott, founder of Crop Disaster Recovery, spoke to attendees about bamboo’s potential fit in the Biden administration’s Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. 

Crop Disaster Recovery has applied for a $38 million grant from the climate smart program that would provide cost-share dollars for growers interested in planting bamboo. If awarded, the cost-share would virtually cover the entire expense of planting. The grant would allow for about 1,500 acres of bamboo to be planted in Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should announce winners of the grants sometime this fall.

“If we win the grant, cost-share dollars should start flowing to growers sometime around the first of next year,” Lott said.

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Frank Giles

Editor-in-Chief AgNet Media Publications

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