How one recipient of the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award is conserving our state’s resources
THOSE IN AGRICULTURE have long been stewards of the lands that they utilize to raise a crop or turn out livestock to pasture, but some go above and beyond the norm. In Florida, ag producers who utilize “environmentally innovative farming practices” are honored with the state’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In April, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam announced three award winners, and Dennis Carlton of Carlton and Carlton Ranch in Tampa was among them.
Carlton’s roots run deep in Florida agriculture, and he’s constantly giving back. A seventh-generation Floridian, he started his agribusiness in 1974. His current holdings encompass over 35,000 acres between Carlton and Carlton Ranch and others, like Audubon Ranch. Despite his workload, he consistently steps up to the plate in many local agriculture organizations and environmental boards, such as presiding over the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau, sitting on the Hillsborough County environmental advisory board, and joining the Florida Farm Bureau’s Citrus Advisory Committee. He raises cattle, grows citrus, cultivates strawberries, and protects the Sunshine State’s soil and water.
Water is all-important to agriculture and Florida, and Carlton has been on the forefront of protecting it. When public opinion hoped that the Cone Ranch lands in Hillsborough County be returned to wetlands rather than be developed, Carlton agreed. He leases a portion of the land from the county, and the Cone Ranch Wetland Restoration Project preserve opened to the public in 2014. He has even converted 120 acres of his own lands into wetlands.
One of Carlton’s noted abilities is to foster cooperation among stakeholders. He has a track record of working with government agencies and environmental groups to the benefit of all. For instance, he has participated in the FDACS Water Quality and Quantity Best Management Practices (BMP) Program since 2011. The program encourages Florida producers to utilize agreed-upon water practices that save water or improve water quality.
Carlton was also the first to enroll in the Hillsborough River’s adopted Basin Management Action Plan, or BMAP, for its watershed, as laid out by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He also has over a dozen other “Notices-of-Intent to Implement” BMPs on his lands. Carlton is also innovative when it comes to environmental issues on his own. When he purchased a 253-acre property outside of Plant City for strawberries, he proposed a plan to use a nearby reservoir for water to irrigate the strawberries and protect the plants when freezing temperatures threaten. His plan is slated to save nearly 70,000 gallons of groundwater for watering a day and over 1.6 million gallons of groundwater for freeze protection.
He also pursues other endeavors beyond water conservation. For instance, before the nearby citrus plant closed, Carlton would truck citrus pulp left over from the juicing process to feed his cattle. He has also reclaimed 1,200 acres of former phosphate lands into pasture lands.
Farmers and ranchers live and work the land that supports their operations, and most, like Carlton, hold the soil, air, and water close to their hearts. The Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award is one way we can all thank Dennis Carlton, and those like him, for his continued efforts to grow and raise the products we need to live, and to safeguard the environment as he works.
article by ERIKA ALDRICH