In 1900, two pioneering Florida settlers planted a 200-acre grapefruit grove at Deep Lake Hammock, located 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico on the edge of the Big Cypress Swamp. Twenty-two years later, the purchase of this grove represented Barron Gift Collier's first foray into agriculture.
In the succeeding decades, orange groves, cattle ranches, and tomato and vegetable farms have become defining features of the rural landscape of southwest Florida and an important component of the business and land management strategy of Collier Enterprises.
At the forefront of these endeavors have been the environmental stewardship and best management practices that guide Collier Enterprises' land and agricultural management activities. For example, agricultural operations in southwest Florida require the creation of large reservoir systems to manage water resources through seasonal periods of drought and heavy rainfall. These reservoirs are carefully designed to preserve existing wetland features, and they create critical foraging habitat for wading birds and diverse other wildlife. This approach to water conservation reduces dependence on subsurface water resources and helps improve surface water quality.
Florida is an important supplier of fresh squeezed orange juice through companies including Tropicana (Pepsi) and Minute Maid (Coca-Cola) in the rapidly growing ready-to-serve global orange juice market. Collier Enterprises has been a significant supplier to both since the 1980s, and was instrumental in creating Consolidated Citrus – then the largest orange producer in the United States. Following the sale of its interest in Consolidated Citrus, an affiliate of Collier Enterprises acquired Orange-Co, Florida's largest contiguous grove operation. Collier recently sold Orange-Co in December 2014 to Alico, Inc., a publicly-traded agribusiness company based in Florida. Collier continues operating citrus groves and investing in new grove development.
In addition to citrus, Florida has long been a major supplier of tomatoes and vegetables to U.S. markets during the winter months. The 1980s saw the creation of Collier Farms, an affiliated business that became one of the largest tomato and vegetable producers in southwest Florida. Collier Enterprises exited the farming business in the mid-1990s through the sale of Collier Farms to a multinational public company.
The Immokalee Ranch, a joint venture with Barron Collier Company, is a cattle ranch on which nearly one hundred square miles of environmentally pristine land are actively managed in Collier and Hendry counties. Land management techniques include prescribed burns, removal of harmful and invasive exotic plant species, and other ecosystem management programs that enhance and maintain critical wildlife and prey base habitat for all species.
Additionally, affiliates of Collier Enterprises are engaged in sod production and research into salt- and drought-tolerant turfgrasses. These new turfgrass varieties can be maintained with minimal use of conventional fertilizers and pesticides, and can use recycled, brackish and other alternative water sources for irrigation, thus reducing demand on drinking water supplies.