Environmental program set to go statewide
JOHN BUCHANANAn innovative program created more than a decade ago to motivate Florida farmers and ranchers to be better stewards of the environment will be expanded statewide in 2013.
Published: January 9, 2013
Published: January 9, 2013
The County Alliance of Responsible Environmental Stewardship, founded in 2001 by Florida Farm Bureau and the Suwannee River Partnership, recognizes agricultural producers for superior management and conservation of natural resources such as water by implementing best management practices approved by the Florida Legislature and administered by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The CARES initiative is also supported by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which provides educational and outreach services through county extension offices.
The program involves partnerships with more than 60 public agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource and Conservation Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state's water management districts, agricultural organizations and local governments.
More than 530 Florida farmers and ranchers have received CARES awards since they were created, with 27 recipients being named in 2012.
Each year, official nominations are made through the state's Office of Agricultural Water Policy, based on demonstrated innovation and leadership in implementation of the state's BMPs.
Despite the success of the program, an ongoing challenge has been lingering reluctance from some operators to participate, said Scot Eubanks, assistant director of agriculture policy at FFB.
"We understand that some farmers and ranchers still see the BMPs as a form of regulation by state government," Eubanks said. "So as a result, some operators are reluctant to get involved in the BMP program. But I can tell you that the folks who work in agricultural water policy are agriculturists at heart. And what CARES is there to do is not just promote what farmers and ranchers are doing, but also to promote environmental responsibility to the general public."
David DeLargy, ranch manager at Triple Diamond Ranch, a 35-year-old commercial cattle ranch and one of four Okeechobee County operators recognized with a CARES award in October, said that despite such reluctance, farmers and ranchers should embrace the program.
"Ever since we've been in business, we've wanted to do a good job taking care of the land," said DeLargy, who has managed Triple Diamond Ranch since 1980. "And it's nice to be recognized by our industry for working hard to do the best job you can to manage your property."
DeLargy and Triple Diamond Ranch were recognized for their innovation in installing a system of culverts and risers to retain water during wet months that can be used during dry months.
"Mother Nature is not always the best at giving us the water we need when we need it, so during high water months we can now release water and during dry season we can retain water," DeLargy said. "And that helps us increase our forage production and the quality of the drinking water our cattle have. Being able to regulate our water makes us more efficient in terms of our operations. But it also helps the environment in terms of our stewardship of the land."
In addition to environmental benefits, Triple Diamond also gets business benefits, DeLargy explained. "We're able to produce forage longer," he said. "And if your water quality is better, your calves have more weight, and that's important because we're in the business of raising beef to sell by the pound. And getting more weight on our cattle more easily is just a matter of basic economics for us."
Eubanks stressed the importance of DeLargy's point.
"The BMPs are also cost-effective in terms of operations," he said. "They're not written to be a burden. They're written to help operators perform better as businesses in addition to being more environmentally responsible."
Eubanks added that the importance of Florida's BMPs are now more important than ever after a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision that supported new numeric nutrient criteria proposed by the state to ward off more stringent and expensive requirements that could have been imposed by the federal government.
"So being proactive and showing you're willing to take the next step in preserving our environment is very important to the state going forward," Eubanks said.
For DeLargy and the owners of Triple Diamond Ranch, such ongoing proactivity is simply a matter of good citizenship. "We want to take care of the property, keep it in good shape," said DeLargy, who helped develop the ranch's first conservation plan in 1989. "The real goal is to leave the land in better shape than it was when we got it."
CARES awards recipients for 2013 will be announced next fall, Eubanks said.
Visit www.thisfarmcares.org or call Florida Farm Bureau at (352) 378-8100.