Every day is Earth Day on a Florida farm or ranch.
When the sun comes up, we’re in the field. We’re tending to our herd or crop, analyzing the soil and applying just the right amount of nutrients and water. We wake up every day and go to work to ensure Americans and citizens around the world have access to a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food, fiber and other important staples. However, our job does not end at the cultivation and harvest. We also care for Florida’s natural landscape and protect our natural resources. Floridians benefit from our efforts to care for, restore and protect the environment.
Nearly 10 million acres in Florida are dedicated to agriculture, all of which provide many environmental benefits. These lands preserve the natural landscape from commercial and residential development. Instead of skyscrapers, highways and sewage systems, the farmlands across Florida are made up of tall trees, vast grazelands and rows of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Florida farms don’t just preserve Florida’s natural beauty, they contribute to clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat. Forests and expansive grasses on ranchlands directly combat climate change.
Forest lands remove air pollution and emit oxygen. Particles, odors and other pollutants, especially carbon dioxide, in the air are absorbed by trees. The trees then use the energy from the sun to produce and release oxygen back into the air. As a result, Florida’s air quality is the cleanest among the most populous states, having earned certification from the federal government as meeting National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Cattle ranches capture, store and filter water, which replenishes Florida’s aquifer, the main source of our drinking water. Ranches provide grasslands to help store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Farmlands also serve as critical habitats for Florida’s unique and diverse wildlife. From red-cockaded woodpeckers to Florida scrub-jays to gopher tortoises, many Florida wildlife species live, travel and thrive on Florida farms. Imperiled plant species like Godfrey’s butterwort, scrub plums and Rugel’s pawpaw are maintained thanks to the natural spaces provided by these land holdings.
It is not enough just to protect these lands from development. Florida’s farmers and ranchers take it to the next level, making proactive efforts to limit their impact on the environment and protect and restore our natural resources.
For more than 20 years, Florida farmers have utilized technologies and implemented best management practices. These practices are scientifically proven to protect the environment and improve water quality. Today, these efforts to reduce nutrient application, limit water use and runoff and protect nearby lakes, streams or rivers, are implemented on more than 4.6 million acres of land throughout the Sunshine State.
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Agricultural best management practices are developed and implemented by farmers, based on research by the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences. They go through a rigorous review, evaluation and approval process by Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The agency has verified that these best practices are effective at protecting Florida’s water and soil resources. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services conducts on-site visits to measure and report progress.
Florida’s farmers and ranchers are among the most — if not the most— progressive in the nation when it comes to protecting and restoring the environment. We are proud to have seen great success from these efforts.
Best practices implemented in the Everglades Agricultural Area have prevented more than 3,000 metric tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades, and the landowners have covered 100 percent of the cost.
In Jackson Blue Spring Basin, where cooperative projects and precision agriculture like GPS targeting and Y drops that meter plant food directly to the roots have been implemented, we are seeing significant, measurable improvements in nutrient reduction.
The Florida Farm Bureau Federation recognizes farmers and ranchers who demonstrate exemplary efforts to protect Florida’s natural resources. To date, we’ve honored more than 900 producers across the state for their responsible environmental stewardship. When you’re driving down the road and see a “This Farm CARES” sign, know that they are the best of the best when it comes to take caring of our land, air and water. Check out some of their stories at ThisFarmCARES.org.
These efforts are not always easy, and they most certainly are not cheap. Florida’s agricultural producers have invested more than $450 million into research, restoration, and on‐farm water and soil‐cleaning efforts.
Florida farmers are passionate about our lands and feeding American families. We are dedicated to protecting the environment. We invest in these efforts. We are investing in the future and the world.
Jeb. S. Smith is the president of Florida Farm Bureau Federation. A lifelong resident and business owner in St. Johns County, Smith and his family produce cattle, hay and sod. Smith’s family has farmed the land in St. Johns County for more than one-hundred years. His current family farm was recognized as a Century Pioneer Family Farm in March.