Pushing agriculture out of Florida is not a solution. Instead, agriculture can be part of a comprehensive solution.
I grow 30 different vegetables and herbs on 1,500 acres in Southwest Florida. The produce we grow at C&B Farms – organic green beans, baby bok choy, green cabbage and peppers, among others – is served in restaurants and at dinner tables throughout the nation.
In recent years, weeds and toxic blue green algae have plagued our water bodies, and we must work together to prevent these hazards from destroying our water supply, our environment and our economy.
Here at C&B farms, we’ve adopted Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Agriculture – a series of detailed guidelines to reduce the resources we use in agriculture and mitigate our impact on the environment.
The BMPs I use are tailored to my region and my crops. They are part of a Basin Management Action Plan that mandates enforceable water quality improvement requirements for farms like mine, as well as urban areas nearby. The plan was developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in collaboration with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), local governments and other stakeholders. In summary, BMPs are not voluntary, they are effective, and they are key to restoring Florida’s water resources.
But we can’t stop there. We have more cooperative work to do. I challenged the SFWMD to help me improve my irrigation system. We used research and data to determine the precise quantity of water needed to grow my crops. We built a tailwater recovery system to capture and store water when it rains, and we use that water to irrigate the fields. As a result, we’ve reduced the amount of water we use from the aquifer by 70 percent. And, we’re saving energy by reducing the distance and elevation required to pump the water.
I also worked with Sanjay Shukla, a researcher at the University of Florida, to modify the way we grow our crops to use less water. We now use a concept called “compact bed geometry” or “hilling,” which involves planting rows four to six inches higher than normal and one-third narrower. This method retains more fertilizer, preventing it from leaching into the groundwater, and it requires half of the amount of water needed to grow crops in lower and wider rows.
What this proves is that with a proactive, collaborative approach to adopt science-based solutions, we can make a big difference. Forming true partnerships with farmers will provide more environmental benefits than through regulations alone.
Pushing agriculture out of Florida is not a solution. We provide the food and resources our nation depends on. And without a strong and productive agriculture industry, Americans will be forced to rely on foreign countries for our food like we do our oil.
Instead, agriculture can be part of a comprehensive solution. Keeping land in agriculture protects the landscape from development, and that landscape is crucial to restoring our water supplies and providing habitat for wildlife and endangered species.
By enrolling more agricultural lands in BMPs and adopting the latest innovations and technologies like we have at C&B Farms, we can have a greater impact on our environment, and sooner.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a proposal based on the recommendations of the Blue Green Algae Task Force. His proposal uses sound science to make substantial improvements to water resources across the state.
From preventing wastewater discharges to considering the impacts of septic tanks on our environment, his proposal is a comprehensive approach.
Importantly, it builds on the success of Florida’s BMPs program by incorporating the latest research from University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF-IFAS). In addition, it requires on-site verification for producers enrolled in Florida’s BMPs so we prove operations like mine are accountable to their commitments.
I look forward to following the discussion and debate around this proposal as the Florida Legislature begins to consider it in committee hearings and on the floor when session begins January.
Just as important as the policy is the funding to implement it. We need to provide staff and resources to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and DEP in order to strengthen the BMPs program and build on its success.
We’ve made a lot of progress, but there is more work to do.
CHUCK OBERN, CLEWISTON
Editor’s note: Obern is a first-generation grower, and owner of C&B Farms.