ST. PETERSBURG (CBSMiami/AP) – 2012 was a good year for Florida’s fruit and veggie industry.

Agriculture contributes $104 billion to the state’s economy annually and employs 2 million people. It’s the second largest industry in the state, behind tourism.

In a report released Friday from the state’s agriculture department, it was good year especially for snap beans, cucumbers and citrus fruits.

Dan Sleep, a senior analyst for the department, said one crop which surprised him with extraordinary growth was blueberries.

In the past 10 years, Florida blueberries have gone from a $10 million industry into a $65 million industry, he said, largely due to the fact that farmers are planting heat-resistant and hardy berry bushes.

“That’s one that will ultimately hit $100 million,” he said. “That’s pretty phenomenal growth.”

According to the report, Florida is first in the nation in the value of production of oranges, grapefruit, fresh market snap beans, cucumbers for fresh market, cucumbers for pickles, squash, sweet corn, fresh market tomatoes, sugarcane for sugar and watermelons.

The Sunshine State ranks second to California in the total value of fresh market vegetable production, with $1.1 billion worth of veggies produced.

Nationwide, Florida ranked seventh for agricultural exports; the state exported $4 billion worth of commodities. Fresh and frozen meat, along with vegetables, were the top products sent to other countries.

Yet citrus is still the state’s leading crop. The value of the state’s orange crop continued to rise, with $1.5 billion in sales, up from $1.3 billion the previous year. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share — and about 95 percent of the state’s orange crop is used for juice.

Total citrus acreage is down 2 percent from the previous survey and the lowest since 1966. Florida has lost trees due to citrus greening, which is spread by an insect and causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits. Once a tree is infected, it dies in a couple years and cannot be saved.

“Everything we keep hearing is that the problem will be solved,” said Sleep. “My gut is that within the next three to four years it will be solved. We will find a solution. Once it’s solved, you’ll begin to see that industry grow and expand.”

Orange tree acreage declined for the eighth consecutive survey to 464,918, replacing the previous record low of 466,252 tallied in the 1986 inventory. Grapefruit tree acreage fell to a new low of 48,191, representing only 54 percent of the figure before the 2004-2005 hurricanes.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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