Agriculture has always had many proud traditions. One such tradition is being stewards of the land and environment. Most ag folks have a great respect for the land and animals that sustain their livelihoods. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been honoring people in agriculture who embody this tradition with the Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award since its creation in 1994.

Nominees must be a part of Florida’s extensive agriculture industry, and they all display a commitment to protect and conserve the Sunshine State’s natural resources. Evaluations are made by a committee created from many different agriculture and environmental groups and organizations, such as the Florida Forestry Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and many more. These award-winning ag operations can teach us all about the value of sustainable agriculture. You’ll find these following lessons in the operations of each of 2015’s three winners:

  1. Cooperation is Key. The award-winners understand that an “us” versus “them” mentality is not helpful in any regard. Each one has worked with government agencies, community groups, environmental organizations, and others to ensure that their ranches and farms operate with a low impact on the surrounding environment. Cooperating entities include the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD), the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), and local school districts. For instance, Dennis Carlton of Audubon Ranch, Carlton and Carlton Ranch and more has cooperated with a public-private partnership to install a large wetland and hydrologic restoration project on the Cone Ranch property leased from Hillsborough County. He has also been involved with the FDACS Water Quality and Quantity Best Management Practices (BMPs) Program since 2011 and was the first to enroll in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) for the Hillsborough River watershed. Time and again he has shown his commitment to working alongside others to protect Florida’s important natural resources.
  2. Best Management Practices are ‘Best’ for a Reason. Each award-winner utilizes Best Management Practices (BMPs), and proves that such practices are the best because they save time, money, and the environment. Take Wes Carlton’s Bull Hammock Ranch; the ranch is a shining example for water storage and ecological stewardship. The BMPs practiced at Bull Hammock Ranch include the rotation of grazing land, supplying freshwater to keep the cattle out of ponds and ditches and detailed attention to forage and feed crops— from choosing the correct plant variety for the conditions to testing soils and plant tissues to adjust nutrient levels. The ranch also employs multiple water storage areas that store and treat excess water before the water returns to natural areas. The low-impact agriculture practiced by Bull Hammock Ranch is good for the ranch and its cattle, good for the surrounding wildlife, and helps to restore and rehydrate wetlands.
  3. Utilization of Innovation and Technology. Agriculture does have deep traditions, but new technology and innovation has always driven the industry. Each award winner has embraced new technology or innovative practices to be better stewards of the land. In the 1980s, Randall Dasher of Dasher Farms started growing hydroponic crops in greenhouses; since then he has expanded into participating in the Farm-to-School program in Suwannee County and teaching others about hydroponic farming. Other innovations that Dasher has implemented include conservation tillage practices, the introduction of cover crops, and the establishment of the local sesame industry. Dasher’s ability to embrace new technologies and innovations that guard Florida’s natural resources set the example for fellow Florida farmers.

AgAmerica Lending congratulates these leaders in agriculture. As land lenders, we help agribusinesses grow their operations with our low interest rates, long amortizations, and industry-unique 10-year line of credit.