FOR CENTURIES, Florida’s farmers and ranchers have served as Florida’s original conservationists and great stewards of our natural resources. In recognition of these contributions, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has collaborated with our state’s ranchers and farmers to protect important agricultural lands, and their immeasurable environmental benefits, for generations to come.
The S.Y. Hartt ranch in Highlands County has been owned and operated by the Hartt family for more than 75 years and is one of these invaluable pieces of Florida’s landscape. This March, the state of Florida preserved more than 2,500 acres of this ranch’s precious land and its environmental benefits, without jeopardizing any of its agricultural operations and the economic value that the land provides to the local community.
In addition to its active cattle, citrus, and sod operations, the ranch is located within the critically important Northern Everglades and Kissimmee River watersheds and acts as a wildlife and eco-corridor. This conservation easement is the largest single purchase for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.
Florida’s agricultural lands provide the food and fiber we depend on and are among our state’s most valuable resources. Beyond the 300 agricultural commodities, livelihood, and rich culture these lands provide, they support more than two million jobs and billions of dollars in state and local taxes every year that fund education, first responders, and much more.
The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program acquires perpetual agricultural conservation easements that ensure lands will be preserved in agricultural use — indefinitely. At the same time, by placing these agricultural lands in conservation easements and slowing the tide of development in rural Florida, we are also protecting natural resources with untold environmental benefits in a cost-effective way for Florida’s taxpayers.
With this new addition, more than 14,000 acres of critically important land is now protected from development while still producing world-class agricultural products. With a strong commitment from the agriculture community and the Florida Legislature, the total land preserved has more than doubled in the last few years, and we have no intention of slowing down.
Florida agricultural lands, and the jobs and culture they support, are a resource worth protecting. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is committed to working with Florida’s landowners to preserve our precious landscape for generations to come.
article by ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
USDA photo by BOB NICHOLS
Posted March 14, 2016