Alan Jones has seen and learned a lot in his 30-plus years of farming. He has learned that being committed to the profession of agriculture and serving your local community and the nation involves being open to change and embracing new practices.
“In 1987, my father and I moved to Manatee County and started farming potatoes,” Jones says. “At the time, I was studying agriculture at the University of Florida. I was going school, then coming home to Parrish to farm in the spring.
“In 1991, I moved to Manatee County and started farming full time. Coming out of school with a strong ag background, I felt like I had it all figured out, but I really didn’t have a clue. So, I reflect on these 30 years and appreciate all the things I have learned.”
When his father sold the operation to his son, Parrish-based Jones Potato Farm covered 450 acres. Today, Jones and his wife Leslie manage 4,000 acres of potatoes, green beans, and citrus, along with cattle. The newest addition to the business is a vegetable packing facility that should be in operation this season. Jones, V.L. Walker, and L&M Produce will utilize the packinghouse to facilitate Florida operations.
“My dad gave me a great opportunity to learn and enough rope to grow the farm or not,” he says.
Jones says a big part of his learning about new farming methods involved environmental concerns. He took these issues to heart and has implemented a number of practices over the years that have improved efficiency of operations and have provided positive impacts on the environment. For this reason, Jones Potato Farm was a winner of the 2016 Commissioner of Agriculture’s Ag Environmental Leadership Award.
“Over the years, I became familiar with terms like red tide and carbon footprint, and I then reached out to the water management districts, FDACS, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to address these concerns,” he says. “We are out in the fields every day and we get caught up in growing a crop and making a living. It is important to step back and appreciate our role as leaders when it comes to the environment, food safety, and feeding the nation. As growers, we need to be leaders in all these areas.”
Priority On Soil Heath
A concept that has risen in importance in recent years is maintaining and improving soil health. Jones says this is something that has been a focus on his farm since the beginning.
“There is a saying that your trail forward is guided by the trail you leave behind,” he says. “I think if you leave a path of sustainably behind, there will be a positive path forward.”
To maintain soil health, Jones plants a sorghum/cowpea mix cover crop to help reduce wind and water soil erosion between crops. The crop is tilled in before planting potatoes or green beans. The cover crop has helped build organic matter in the soils over the years and keeps weeds in check.
“We also plant green beans as a rotational crop,” Jones says. “The beans marry up well with the potatoes and also leave us a little residual nitrogen that benefit the potatoes.”
Jones follows BMPs in his potato, citrus, and green bean crops. In 2013, Jones was awarded the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program Advocate Award. He is the first Florida grower to win the national recognition.
He has worked closely with FDACS to not only implement BMPs, but also find new opportunities for the program. He is currently working with the agency to develop a BMP for the use of reclaimed water on his grove in LaBelle.