2014 Florida Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award Winners Named

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam has announced the three winners of the state’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award, which recognizes agricultural enterprises that are at the forefront of developing and adopting environmentally innovative farming practices.

“The recipients of these awards have each demonstrated a sustained commitment to conserving our natural resources and improving our environment,” Commissioner Putnam said. “Whether producing milk, growing potatoes or cultivating nursery plants, they have all implemented best management practices that enabled them to reduce runoff and reuse water while producing high-quality agricultural products.”

The recipients are:
Bryan Jones
, owner of Riverdale Potato Farms in Elkton. Riverdale is a successful family enterprise that has produced hearty potato varieties for almost 30 years. Jones has developed innovative irrigation methods and equipment resulting in significant improvement in irrigation efficiency and reduced fertilizer runoff into the St. Johns River, while reducing operating costs and improving crop yields. Riverdale Farms uses a subsurface drip irrigation system that allows 90 percent water use efficiency, which greatly reduces the amount of surface water discharged from the edge of the field during irrigation events and storm events when compared to surface seepage irrigation. Nutrients are retained in the field, improving plant quality and reducing runoff. Through his participation in the Vegetable and Agronomic Crops Best Management Practices (BMPs) under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bryan and Riverdale Farms combine subsurface drip irrigation with fertilizer banding, reducing fertilizer use by 60-75 tons.

Randy Strode, owner and operator of Agri-Starts, Inc. in Apopka. This nursery has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of tissue culture starter plants. Agri-Starts currently has 452 plant varieties in production and another 104 in research and development. As the nursery business grows, so does its demand for more water. Agri-Starts developed and installed a system of cisterns, which enable the nursery to capture and re-use rainwater for 100 percent of its production needs. To further conserve water, the nursery also uses mist propagation, hand irrigation and wet pads to cool the nursery and provide continuous moisture. Agri-Starts is also enrolled in the Container Nursery Best Management Practices program, which has helped reduce pollutants, conserve precious water and produce high-quality starter plants to wholesale nurseries around the globe.

Sutton and Kris Rucks, 3rd generation dairy family and owners of Milking R Dairy in Okeechobee. The nearly 1,200-acre dairy is home to 1,200 milking cows. Milking R also leases 2,000 acres for beef cattle and another 350 acres for row crops. When the Rucks built their existing facility, they consulted with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to design a model farm featuring a high-intensity area stormwater and wastewater system. Milking R uses only fresh water for watering cattle and flushing the milking parlor floor. Waste from the milking and free stall barns is contained in a three-stage lagoon system for recycling. Using the state’s Best Management Practices, the Milking R allows for the capture, storage, reuse and treatment of 100 percent of the wastewater produced on the farm.  Besides reducing the cost of operations, the BMPs have also helped the Rucks reduce the amount of phosphorus imported to the basin.

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