Florida Ag and Forestry Leaders at the Forefront of Addressing Economic and Environmental Challenges

April 25, 2019

The success that Solutions from the Land has had with our state-level climate-smart agriculture (CSA) and large-landscape initiatives can in large part be attributed to the participation of key leaders from the respective states’ agricultural and forestry sectors. With a strong slate of farm, ranch and forestry leaders serving on the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group, the development of a plan to adapt and improve the resilience of the Sunshine State’s 26 million acres of agricultural and forestry lands in the face of changing climate conditions is in very good hands.

This 18-member work group is being facilitated by SfL and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The panel is being assisted by select academic and government partners and a half-dozen technical and resource professionals. It is charged with looking at the science and identifying the challenges ahead. From the results of that analysis, the work group will advance practices and promote policies that can build a healthier, more resilient food system, not to mention a healthier, more sustainable planet.

The critical nature of the job is underscored by findings from the Florida Climate Institute (FCI), a multi-disciplinary network supported by 10 of the state’s leading universities. FCI’s publication asserts that rising carbon emissions are leading to higher temperatures that will have a mostly negative effect on Florida crop yields. Additional challenges faced by Florida farmers, ranchers and forestland owners include sea level rise and intensified extreme climate events, affecting land and irrigation water availability, livestock productivity and pest and disease pressure.

What’s at stake? Florida’s agricultural industries provide more than $120 billion in economic revenue to the state, second only to tourism, and support more than two million jobs. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says that in 2017, the year with the latest numbers available, Florida’s 47,000 commercial farms and ranches were the nation’s leading producers of oranges, grapefruit and sugarcane, along with another half-dozen specialty crops like cucumbers and fresh market tomatoes. The state ranked second in value of production of strawberries and watermelons, among others, and ranked fourth nationally in the value of production of peanuts.

FCI scientists say that while Florida agriculture has a long history of successful adaptations to the vagaries of weather and climate, the level of climate change that is coming poses a challenge that is unprecedented in magnitude and rates of change.

The Florida CSA initiative puts farmers, ranchers and forestland owners at the center of the discussions that must take place to keep the state’s agriculture sector strong and sustainable as it takes on the changing climate, while providing nutritious food, clean energy, and ecosystem services such as water filtration and carbon sequestration.

Those who work the land have a sense of stewardship that offers the best perspective on what needs to be done to preserve their operations. The Florida CSA work group includes members that are as diverse as the farm, livestock and forestry production that thrives and so significantly contributes to the state’s economy. The panel’s 18 members represent areas of production ranging from timber to cattle, from citrus fruits to berries, from rice to cotton, from peanuts and sugar to corn, and from vegetables to horticultural products. Also represented are conservation and water management interests.

Heading this knowledgeable, veteran group are Co-Chairs Lynetta Usher Griner of Chiefland and Jim Strickland of Myakka City. Griner, along with her husband, Ken, owns and operates Usher Land and Timber, and is the 2018 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Florida Farmer of the Year. Strickland is the owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Big Red Cattle Company and Blackbeard’s Ranch in Manatee County, which was awarded the 2018 Florida Cattlemen’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture’s 2018 Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award.

The makeup of the work group shows that there is a sector-wide awareness of the multiple, climate-related threats and challenges faced by the Florida’s agricultural and forestry systems. SfL salutes and thanks the farmers, ranchers, and foresters on the panel that have stepped up to be at the forefront ofresolving challenges for the food system, energy, the environment and our climate, as well as achieving sustainable production goals.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.