Bradenton farmers face the 'worst of times'

MANATEE — Local farmers are fixing old pickup trucks, rather than buying new ones, running their tractors only when necessary, and generally tightening their belts in the face of a severe recession.

Ralph Garrison, president of the Manatee County Farm Bureau and owner of Suncoast Nursery in East Manatee, said the nursery business has hit rock bottom.

"Nurseries are closing. They practically can't give away their inventory or their property at an auction. It's the worst of times to be in the nursery business," said the veteran of 36 years, who wholesales to clients in all 50 states except Arizona.

Tuesday, he showed a visitor through 20 acres of shade houses, several of them empty or partially empty. Many of his plants would typically go to office buildings nationwide, businesses that have cut expenses by cutting out landscaping or decorative plants.

"Why grow plants you can’t sell?" Garrison said.

Reggie Brown, executive director of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, said the salmonella scare of 2008 helped lead to the worst tomato season on record, and the business has yet to fully recover.

"Combine that with tightening of credit, it has the potential to significantly reduce the size of the tomato industry in this state. The tomato industry is typically a half billion dollar industry, but this past season it was under $400 million," Brown said.

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