More than 2,700 acres of citrus groves in Osceola County's Saint Cloud were bought in late June for $19.8 million by International Farming Corp., a North Carolina-based investment firm specializing in agriculture.
Formerly owned by Vero Beach-based Premier Citrus, the property encompasses eight land parcels totaling 2,742 acres on Holopaw Groves Road, located southwest of the intersection of US 192 and Holopaw Road.
Holopaw Groves Road lies outside Osceola County's urban growth boundary. The county's development policy aims to maintain such land for rural and agricultural use, and discourage commercial or residential development.
Osceola County ranked 16th among Florida counties for citrus production, as of 2012. Citrus production statewide has been in decline over the past decade, and Osceola is no different.
Census numbers show citrus groves have decreased in Osceola from 7,460 acres in 2007 to 5,831 in 2012 (most recent census), a figure that's likely down to around 4,250 acres of active growth this year, said Jim Fletcher, extension director for UF-IFAS in Osceola County.
"We have a lot more citrus acreage than that in Osceola, but a lot of it has been abandoned due to citrus greening disease," he said. "To me, a purchase of 2,700 acres in that area is a group that still wants to do agricultural production of some kind."
The 2,742 acres would be considered large in many counties, but in Osceola it's more in line with a small ranch. Osceola County is unique in the number of large ranches it has, with 50 or more boasting around 25,000 acres, Fletcher said.
The county is No. 1 in the state for cow and calf production, and among Florida's top three for sod production.
"It wouldn't surprise me if the (new owner) came in to that land with cow-calf production, or we're seeing a lot of alternative crops catch on here, like peach and blueberry production," Fletcher said.
Calls for comment to International Farming Corporation were not returned on Monday.
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