John Hoblick: Florida's farms provide more than food


Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8:51 p.m.

Despite much public discussion about Florida's natural resources in recent years, an important fact is often overlooked. Farmers and ranchers are the first stewards of those resources.

The overwhelming majority of residents in our state have the privilege of pursuing other callings besides growing food because of the productivity and efficiency of contemporary agriculture. Ample food, fiber and renewable fuels are available to us because farm families in our state meet the challenge of making a living from the land every day.

Their enterprise also helps make resource conservation a reality. They have an immediate incentive: they can only succeed at their livelihoods by protecting the good health of the soil and water around them.

Proof of that incentive has appeared in their willingness to adopt state-of-the-art resource management strategies developed by experts at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as at other universities and public agencies. The implementation of superior approaches to conservation has been verified by independent evaluation.

The results have been especially significant for water use. According to field tests by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services personnel, conservation measures employed by farm families save almost 11 billion gallons of freshwater each year.

The savings occur in all regions. In the Suwannee River basin, for example, innovative irrigation systems have dramatically slashed the agricultural use of groundwater. Officials at the Suwannee River Water Management District report that farm owners are saving more than one billion gallons annually because of these systems.

The adoption of improved management techniques has also involved water quality. This aspect of water management is a long-term commitment, despite the intense financial challenges agricultural operations face.

Precise testing of nutrient use by soils and plants has allowed farmers to apply only the minimum amount of fertilizer plants need to grow in both open fields and in protected structures. Dairy producers have established containment structures that recycle water and animal waste to grow corn and other forage crops on the farm, preventing releases of nutrients into surrounding environments.

Such innovations have yielded tangible results. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has determined that citrus growers in South Central Florida reduced nitrogen levels in groundwater by nearly 33 percent in three years with their advanced management efforts.

The South Florida Water Management District has reported that farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area slashed phosphorous levels by 71 percent in water flowing from their properties during the 2012 reporting year.

Farm operators conserve more than water. They maintain the greenspace and wildlife habitat we all wish to preserve. And they effectively control invasive, non-native species introduced through our seaports and air terminals.

Agriculture creates the foundation of national security. It is the source of a safe, nutritious domestic food supply that supports our very existence.

I ask you to join me in remembering that our farm families do more than grow crops and animals. Their outstanding accomplishments sustain our quality of life.

John Hoblick is president of the Florida Farm Bureau.

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