By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County government officials were pleased to announce last month that agriculture continues to be, not only a vital mainstay of the county’s economy, but is one of the nation’s top producers as well.

The claim is based on the 2011 agriculture sales and acreage estimates released this week by the Hillsborough County Agriculture Industry Development Program and Hillsborough County Extension Service.

According to the data, the 2011 sales estimate of Hillsborough County agriculture products is $832 million, up $16 million from 2010.

Current data also shows that Hillsborough County has 2,843 farms, which is the second largest number of farms of any county in the state of Florida,

Carol Michel of the County’s Communications office said that 39 percent or 255,532 acres of the county’s more than 1,000 sq. miles, is used for agriculture production, and that Hillsborough ranks as the fourth largest producer of agricultural products in the state, and 59th out of 3,076 counties in the United States.

As expected, strawberries continue to be the highest sales crop at $388,125,702, which is almost 47 percent of the County’s total agricultural sales.

Hillsborough produces 90 percent of the strawberries grown in Florida, and nearly 11 percent of the strawberries grown in the nation, while also producing 14 percent of Florida’s tomatoes, as well as five percent of the tomatoes grown in the U.S.

Vegetable production came in at second place with $150 million with 18 percent of annual sales, followed by ornamental plants in third with $139,232,407 accounting for 16.7 percent of annual sales.

With $23,546,112 and 2.8 percent of annual sales, aquaculture came in at fourth followed by beef cattle/pasture at fifth with $18,934,207 and 2.2 percent of annual sales.

“Local agriculture sales support the local economy through related businesses such as banking, real estate, transportation, packaging, equipment, seed, agricultural suppliers and services, and marketing firms,” Michel said in the report.

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