Leaders of Solutions from the Land (SfL) pride themselves in the diversity and breadth of the organization’s efforts to explore integrated land management solutions to help meet food security, economic development, climate change and conservation of biodiversity goals.
Today marks a prominent example of those efforts when the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture work group (FLCSA), sponsored and supported by SfL and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UFIFAS), announces the launch of the Healthy Farms-Healthy Bays (HF-HB) initiative.
The project aims to utilize the assets available from the FLCSA, which is a multi-stakeholder effort led by farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, in partnership with conservation, environmental, business, health, academic and government partners and leaders, to enhance the sustainability of agricultural operations and improve water quality, fisheries and habitat in key Gulf Coast bays and estuaries.
The project will begin in the watershed of the Suwannee River, which, at 246 miles, represents the second largest river system in the state and is fed by dozens of crystal-clear springs. Farmers and ranchers in the watershed will be encouraged to think about and experiment with solution pathways and tactics that reduce external inputs, close nutrient loops, regenerate soils and concurrently produce agricultural and food products, all while protecting and renewing ecosystems and providing multiple services and benefits to the farm enterprise and to society.
This new initiative aims to connect upland farmers and ranchers with downstream aquatic ecosystem stakeholders in a joint effort to enhance sustainability of agricultural operations, while also improve water quality, fisheries and habitat in key Gulf Coast bays and estuaries.
The ambitious goal is to build on existing restoration plans and projects, using best available science and leading technical advisors, to achieve a new future in which healthy and productive bays, rivers and streams across the peninsula are underpinned and supported by a vibrant and sustainable agricultural economy.
Co-chairing the HF-HB initiative are Randall Dasher, the owner of Dasher Farms, a peanuts, seed crops and seed processing operation, who is also the president of the Suwannee Farm Bureau and a past recipient of the state Ag Commissioner’s Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award; and Ed Chiles, founder of The Chiles Group and internationally recognized as a driving force for best sustainability practices.
While the project begins by focusing on the Suwannee basin, the goal will be to expand the effort to other watersheds. To meet the objective of enhancing agriculture and aquatic resilience and viability, the project will focus on market mechanisms, including payments for ecosystems services; government grants to help producers absorb the cost of systems and practices that will enable sustainable productivity, improved water quality and benefits to downstream stakeholders; artificial intelligence and modeling verification tools; technical assistance; research; and partnerships.
Underway is the recruitment of farm, fishery, conservation, business and government partners to make up the HF-HB leadership team. An inaugural meeting is set to be held in early January in Cedar Key.
Ultimately, the initiative aims to deliver a roadmap that identifies needed changes in land use practices, research, education and policy to keep Florida agriculture profitable, all while providing nutritious food, clean energy and ecosystem services such as wildlife habitat, water storage and filtration, and carbon sequestration.
SfL applauds the catalytic leadership that FLCSA members and UF/IFAS are providing in Florida, and we look forward to helping establish similar self-directed climate smart agriculture initiatives across the country.