Florida’s farmers and ranchers have not only fueled our people and economy for the last five centuries, they have proven themselves as responsible and innovative stewards of our land. Today, Florida farms and ranches produce nearly 300 different agricultural commodities on 10 million acres of land. And at the same time, agricultural operations are preserving natural habitats and protecting our natural resources from development.
Each year, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recognizes Florida farmers and ranchers who demonstrate a sustained commitment to conserving Florida’s natural resources and improving our environment. The Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award goes to three Florida businesses that stand out for their efforts.
Bryan Jones received the award for implementing innovative irrigation methods and equipment at Riverdale Potato Farms in Elkton. Riverdale is a successful family enterprise that has produced hearty potato varieties for almost 30 years. As a result of an improved subsurface drip irrigation system, he has increased water efficiency by 90 percent, reduced fertilizer use by more than 60 tons, reduced operating costs, and improved crop yields.
Randy Strode, owner and operator of Agri-Starts, Inc. in Apopka, is the second recipient this year. This nursery has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of tissue culture starter plants. As the nursery grew, so did its need for water. Randy installed a system that enabled his nursery to capture and re-use rainwater for 100 percent of its production needs.
Sutton and Kris Rucks, third generation owners of Milking R Dairy in Okeechobee, are the final recipients of this year’s award. The Rucks implemented best management practices to capture, store, reuse, and treat 100 percent of the wastewater produced on their farm, which now serves as a model for resource conservation. Not only have their efforts reduced phosphorus runoff, but they’re also saving money on the cost of operations.
Whether it’s producing milk, growing potatoes, or cultivating nursery plants, these winners have all implemented best management practices that help them reduce runoff and reuse water, while producing high-quality agricultural products. All three recipients of this year’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Awards are proof of agriculture’s longstanding commitment to conserving Florida’s precious natural resources.
I’m proud to recognize these Floridians for implementing innovative, business-savvy farming practices to conserve and protect our state’s diverse, world-renowned, and economically important environment.
column by COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE ADAM H. PUTNAM