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Why Bamboo Might Be Worth the Climb for Florida Farmers

The bamboo market is strong due to the many different products that can be produced with the plant. Photo courtesy of OnlyMoso USA

Diego Cespedes believes in bamboo. In his role as Grower Advisor for OnlyMoso, he is spreading the word about the crop’s potential to growers in Florida. The Italian-based company started planting in 2014 with more than 1,000 grower partners in Europe and has grown more than 6,000 acres with the first partial harvest this past spring.

But, Cespedes says there’s plenty of room to grow, and Florida is a good location to raise the crop. The market demand for bamboo shoots and trunks is strong due to the surprising number of uses for the crop.

Bamboo is used in more than 1,500 products. The OnlyMoso Commercial Division has more than 30 different product offerings that contain bamboo, including teas and a wide array of food items.

According to Cespedes, bamboo represents a $60 billion global industry that is growing. The U.S. is the largest importer of bamboo products, accounting for 95% of its current consumption. The U.S. imports $519 million worth of bamboo shoots annually. China is the largest exporter of bamboo, shipping $32 billion annually.

“Until now, the U.S. was not capitalizing on this sustainable industry,” Cespedes says. “So, OnlyMoso USA was incorporated in late 2015, and in May 2016, opened for business and started developing nurseries in the state. Last year, we planted the first native tropical bamboo in Central Florida. In September, we are importing our first 20-foot container of bottled shoots from OnlyMoso Italy to start warming up the food industry, showing what we will be producing in a couple of years from our own domestic harvest with our U.S. farmers partner alliance. We have a strong and ambitious marketing plan, through our OnlyMoso Harvest company, to go after multiple markets. But the first market we will pursue is the food industry.”

Bamboo trunks and its shoots (center) grow fast in Florida’s climate. The plants also are relatively low maintenance to manage. Photo courtesy of OnlyMoso USA

A Fit for Florida

According to Cespedes, to fill the current import demand for bamboo shoots in the U.S., growers would need to plant 26,000 acres of the crop. He says Florida and other southern tier states are prime locations for planting.

About 250 acres have been planted in Florida, through OnlyMoso USA, and 300 acres in other states. But, given the demand and good growing climate, he expects acres to ramp up quickly.

“The plantings we have in Florida are doing really well,” Cespedes says. “There is one planting near Ocala where the grower’s two daughters go out every day just to check and see how much the bamboo has grown. It is growing really fast.”

In Florida, citrus, vegetable, blueberry, and row crop growers have put in plantings. OnlyMoso USA has a grower-partner program to provide certified bamboo plants for planting and to purchase the product, and thru their 10-year guaranteed crop buyback agreement, they will pick up the shoots and trunks on the farm after harvest. Traditional financing programs can be utilized as well.

As part of the grower-partner program, the initial planting is about $20,000 per acre, or a $10,000 per acre investment with a 50% deferral program, until year three. Annual costs include $600 per acre for fertilizer and about $500 per acre for irrigation. Cespedes says there is no need to apply insecticides or fungicides on the crop.

Once the bamboo is established, the plantings can produce gross returns of up to $30,000 per acre for the Moso variety and up to $40,000 per acre for the ‘Asper’ variety. The crop is harvested twice per year, and the plants have a 50- to 80-year production lifespan.

“It is relatively low-maintenance and highly productive,” Cespedes adds. “And, our company will develop and market bamboo products in various industries, including food, bio-energy, textile, construction, and paper. With the human health benefits of the plant and its positive environmental profile, we believe bamboo has big potential here in Florida and many states.”