The first stewards of our natural resources

Ware / MCT

Nearly every Floridian recognizes that we must conserve water resources. The quality of life we enjoy depends upon our success at accomplishing this objective.

Explosive growth in our state’s population since the 1950s has placed heavy demand upon water, land and other natural treasures. If current projections are accurate, more than 31 million people will claim residence here in 2050 — nearly double the 2010 census count.

Water management district officials, utility managers and university researchers have warned that the steadily increasing volume of water consumption could lead to an emergency previously unknown in Florida.

In sharp contrast to this general trend of water consumption, farm families have taken steps to slash their use of the resource. According to field monitoring data compiled by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, farmers and ranchers across the state currently conserve 11 billion gallons of water each year.

During the past two decades the installation of state-of-the-art systems of water management on farm properties such as micro-jet irrigation for citrus trees and comprehensive water recycling has made this tangible record of accomplishment possible. Farm owners large and small have invested substantial portions of their assets with the conservation of water as a top priority.

Many other citizens have begun to recognize that farmers are the first stewards of natural resources. We share the same overall environmental goals.

As Charles Lee of Audubon Florida recently noted, water storage on farm properties serves both natural ecosystems and human need. “We think the farmers are the potential salvation of these systems simply because their land areas are so large and the capacity to hold water on their land is so great,” Lee said. He also agreed that the benefit deserves compensation.

Conservation by farm families also addresses the issue of water quality. These families have enrolled more than 9 million acres of agricultural land under the state’s Best Management Practices programs. Their willingness to embrace the most advanced, science-based natural resource management techniques available while welcoming expert assessments of their efforts continues to produce measureable results.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has determined that citrus growers in south-central Florida reduced nitrogen levels in groundwater by nearly 33 percent in three years with their advanced management efforts.

The South Florida Water Management District has reported that farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area cut phosphorus levels by 71 percent in water flowing from their properties during 2012.

Florida Farm Bureau’s County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) program highlights these and many similar achievements. More than 600 farm owners around the state have received a CARES award since 2001. The award signifies that each recipient has implemented an effective strategy for conserving natural resources. Independent experts confirm the practical success of the strategy.

We expect that much additional evidence of positive environmental conservation triumphs by our farmers and ranchers will be forthcoming.

Our deep appreciation for and careful management of water resources must not lead us to overlook other material needs of human beings. The timeless responsibility for preserving the sources of life also includes attention to related qualities of existence for ourselves and for other people.

That responsibility can only be fulfilled by devoting attention to the multiple challenges of our society. We must pursue a balanced approach that supports our economy and our communities.

We must do so in the spirit of collaboration, recognizing that no dramatic, overnight remedy will likely present itself.

John Hoblick is president of the Florida Farm Bureau.

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