Sustainable Practices Make Perfect for Florida Farmers
Farming smart and sustainable amid an environment more conducive to urban development is a daunting task. Despite the growing challenge, Florida agriculture continues to find ways to succeed and set examples. To recognize leaders in the field who are employing eco-innovative farming techniques, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services presents its Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award. The honor has been presented annually to farming operations since 1994. The latest round of award recipients were announced and lauded during the recent Florida Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting.
Meet the 2017 Agricultural-Environmental Award winners:
Florida Blue Farms
In 2009, Brittany Lee began working with her parents to convert their 50 acres of silviculture land in Waldo into a Southern Highbush blueberry farm. Lee is Vice President and General Manager of Florida Blue Farms, which now consists of 90 acres of production. Florida Blue Farms implements the department’s Specialty Fruit and Nut Crop BMPs to incorporate weather stations for accurate on-site weather conditions; drip irrigation and groundcover to reduce irrigation needs and inputs; soil moisture monitoring; and plant tissue and root growth monitoring and testing to assess herbicide application. The farm’s drainage system collects water into a 2-acre tailwater recovery pond for future use during freeze events. Florida Blue minimizes impact on waterways by using filter strips and EnviroGrid Geocell Systems throughout the farm and fertigation systems to apply spoon-fed nutrients directly to the root zone.
This operation was established in 1968 in Sun City and is home of the Speedling corporate office, original nursery, and EPS manufacturing facility. The company has eight nurseries throughout the country and two in Florida, where moisture levels are carefully analyzed to improve performance and consistency of transplant operations. The Sun City nursery boasts more than 800,000 square feet of greenhouse space equipped with overhead water trolleys that utilize the one-to-five moisture scale to reduce water usage and prevent run-off by only irrigating the exact moisture level needed. At their second location, Speedling circulates 4 million gallons of water throughout the 700,000-square-foot growing space with a sub-irrigation circulation system, which uses 80% less than overhead and waters the plant without wetting the foliage. Speedling uses its overhead irrigation system and sub-irrigation system to recycle water into tanks for future use.
Brad and Meghan Austin co-own and manage Cindale Farms in Marianna with Meghan’s parents, Dale and Cindy Eade. Dale and Cindy founded the small dairy farm and now manage the family’s ice cream business, Southern Craft Creamery, which uses milk products produced by their own cows. Cindale Farms prioritizes conservation and was one of the first farms to enroll in the FDACS’ Dairy Best Management Practices. They have participated in nutrient management programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, to implement a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, rainwater and storage plan, erosion control, and prescribed grazing management. They also partnered with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan that forms a baseline for fertilizer use.