I have been a rancher in Florida for more than six decades. My history is infused with life on the land, as my family has been ranching in Florida since the 19th century. The cattle we raise provide for families across the nation, and I am proud of that. I also take pride that Florida ranches provide habitat for Florida’s native wildlife and protects a landscape that stores and cleans water naturally. Our ranches also act as buffers against future climate change impacts; for instance, they provide grasslands that can help store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The benefits that ranches provide — protecting water, wildlife and addressing climate change impacts — are called ecosystem services. The Growing Climate Solutions Act will allow farmers, ranchers and foresters to receive needed incentives to provide these ecosystems services.
Florida’s agricultural sector contributes more than $120 billion to the state’s economic revenue. Our 47,000 commercial farms and ranches feed people across the country and provide jobs to thousands of Floridians. To maintain our livelihoods in the face of a changing climate, we have to be nimble, finding ways to adapt to climate impacts and work more sustainably. Without action, we’ve got a lot to lose. Storms threaten crop yields; changing rainfall patterns can dry up our lands or flood our fields; higher temperatures can require more irrigation.
Florida ranches are also in danger of being lost as Florida grows by about 300,000 people a year. This growth results in the conversion of thousands of acres of ranches every year. Once these ranchlands are gone, we forever lose the ecosystem services they provide
Besides having a lot to lose, we have a lot to offer. Florida’s working lands, and the people who steward them, are vital in the fight against the causes of climate change. Ranchers are committed to protecting Florida’s wildlife and water while also helping to address climate change. Many ranchers are working with partners, such as non-governmental conservation organizations, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, state and federal governments and others, to make ranching more ecologically sustainable and sequester carbon in both wetland soils and grasslands.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act, now introduced in the United States Senate, provides opportunities for farmers and ranchers to access carbon markets, helping them improve and monetize the ecosystem services their lands provide. Additionally, it creates a program that will assist landowners in implementing sustainable practices, like planting cover crops, prescribed grazing, and reforestation, that reduce air pollution and sequester carbon. Implementing new techniques and practices will be a learning curve; the Growing Climate Solutions Act recognizes that, with the right tools, the agricultural and forestry sectors can be innovative partners in climate mitigation.
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For too long, ranching has been pigeonholed as a barrier to a clean and sustainable environment. Ranchers want to provide climate solutions and make our state more resilient. And we can.
I urge Sen. Marco Rubio to co-sponsor the Growing Climate Solutions Act. Florida has been a leader on climate resilience and restoration. With his support, Florida’s farmers and ranchers can continue to be leaders in our collective efforts to combat the effects of climate change.
Jim Strickland is the owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Big Red Cattle Company and Blackbeard’s Ranch. He is co-chairman of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group, sponsored by the University of Florida and Solutions from the Land, and vice chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, an organization that advocates for the protection of Florida’s ranchlands.