Florida leaders meet to discuss ecosystem services, Healthy Farms-Healthy Bays initiatives

November 17, 2023

Knowledge is a powerful tool when shared with others.

As we learn from one another, we have the ability to collaborate and find solutions to the problems we desire to fix. This was the driving force Florida Climate Smart Agriculture (FLCSA) Work Group’s field day on Nov. 14. 

FLCSA’s second field day showcased the latest research and resources for sustaining and improving the state’s agriculture and environmental footprint. The event attracted a diverse group of producers, researchers, extension specialists, government officials and representatives of grower organizations.

Projects highlighted during the event will aid in food security, economic development, climate change and conservation of biodiversity, an impact that extends far past the North Florida Research and Education Center in Live Oak, Florida, where the event was held.

One such project included the University of Florida (UF) researchers’ ecosystem quantification program. During the event, the team debuted year one’s progress. The team is utilizing one of the world’s fastest supercomputers to combine on-the-ground findings with satellite imagery, publicly sourced data and information from partners to create an advanced AI evaluation system.

“By bringing this data together to form one dataset, we are able to train a model to be quite accurate,” says Jack Upchurch, University of Florida student researcher. “This methodology can be replicated across the country and even the globe – given data availability. Individuals in the U.S. should be especially interested in this study because our state has a high diversity of plant species, and our population centers are uniquely distributed between agricultural areas. Output from this study will be readily applicable to both urbanized states and those that maintain rural heritage.”

Evaluating Florida’s full array of ecosystem services provides guidance to policy makers, agricultural producers and land managers when preserving or improving upon the state of each.

Research and on-farm projects presented at the event also focused on recent progress with the Ecosystems Services and Healthy Farms-Healthy Bays initiatives, including the work of Robert Hochmuth, who is working with farmers to share information on how to adopt efficient nutrient and water management practices on their farms in the Suwannee Valley.

Hochmuth serves as a regional Extension agent and is also the assistant director of University of Florida’s (UF) North Florida Research & Education Center – Suwannee Valley.

“The water here is a shared resource,” Hochmuth says. “All of us have to be participants in meeting such a high (nitrogen reduction) requirement. We’ve all got a lot of work to do.”

Innovative best management practices on the farm could serve as one solution to such a daunting task. But with that said, Hochmuth wanted growers to know they are not alone in these decisions.

“All of us – the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the Suwannee River Management District, the University of Florida, and others – are all working together for this common goal to help farmers learn how to make more efficient use of water and nutrients on their farm, and also to help make them aware of cost share opportunities that can help them meet that particular goal,” Hochmuth says. 

Individuals interested in learning more about Hochmuth’s best management recommendations, can refer to the University of Florida’s Nutrient Management Program

Micheal Allen, Ph.D., director of the UF Nature Coast Biological Station also served as a guest speaker throughout the day. He provided attendees with a deeper look into how land use and climate influence natural resources in the Suwannee River Basin.

“The goal is to synthesize data across the Suwannee River Basin and make predictions about how future changes in land use and climate are going to influence freshwater discharge and nutrient concentration in the Suwannee River,” Allen says.

Such predictions can aid in proper management of the basin which in turn can improve the future of the estuary, he explained.

During his presentation, Allen walked attendees through several scenarios to help them grasp that “what happens at the basin affects the estuary. How we manage the land and water matters.”

Lastly, Allen shared a similar sentiment that Hochmuth had expressed when sharing the results of his research: collaboration is key in the path forward.

“To get anywhere we’re going to have to collaborate,” Allen says. “Having that kind of communication and collaboration is going to be the key for finding solutions that work for as many people as possible in the basin.”

For more information on Allen’s work in the Suwannee River Basin, refer to the team’s recent report Ecological and Economic Impacts of Land Use and Climate Change on Coastal Food Webs and Fisheries.

Next, Tom Hoctor, Ph.D., added more food for thought with his work on the latest 2040 and 2070 trends. Hoctor is the UF Center for Landscape Conservation Planning director.

His presentation revealed how unchecked development and population growth could challenge the future economic viability of the Suwanee River Basin.

At the end of the day, FLCSA and the UF team wrapped up the event by reiterating the work we do today matters in sustaining our planet and our resources. Knowledge shared throughout the day serves as a powerful tool for the path forward.

“We have 1,000 people a day moving to Florida,” says Lynetta Griner, FLCSCA co-chair. “We’ve got to come up with ways to think outside the box and keep those agricultural lands not only producing agricultural commodities but also producing much of the ecosystem services that people are moving to Florida to enjoy. You’re not going to store water in a parking lot or housing development. You’re not going to filter water, store carbon or create oxygen in developed areas either. All of those things are coming from agricultural lands.”

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