Since 1994, The Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award has been presented to spotlight the innovative practices introduced by Florida growers and ranchers. Nominees for this prestigious award are derived from all parts of Florida’s diverse agricultural industry, but all find common ground in a commitment to being positive stewards of Florida’s natural resources in a quest to provide quality agricultural products to consumers.
Individuals or operations are nominated and then undergo a selection process by an independent committee formed by major agriculture and environmental group representatives. A range of environmental practices are considered in the selection process — including wildlife habitat conservation, nutrient management and improvement of water quality — and three operations are chosen. The 2016 award winners are Jones Potato Farm, Cherry Lake Tree Farm and Alliance Dairies.
Jones Potato Farm is in southwest Florida, where sandy soils present issues with common irrigation methods, which the farm overcame through innovative technologies developed on site. Owner Alan Jones developed a hybrid irrigation system using both drip and pivot irrigation technologies, reducing overall water consumption by 50 percent and improving potato yields. Jones Potato Farm has made the commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by implementing best management practices and making the change from diesel water wells to electric.
Cherry Lake Tree Farm, located in Central Florida, is owned by the Sallin Family. In the 1980s, during the historic freezes that distraught the citrus industry, the family decided to diversify its citrus business and is now a premier provider of landscape plants in the Southeastern United States. Cherry Lake has partnered with industry professionals and universities to develop innovative best management practices with the goals of decreasing the operation’s water usage, recycling potting material for all plants and utilizing environmentally friendly pest control with LED light monitoring.
Alliance Dairies prides itself in its innovative recycling methods, with an approach driven by sustainable practices. The company provides a profitable business model for other dairies to follow around the world. The 24-hour dairy operation produces around 18.5 million gallons of milk annually using other industry byproducts such as distillers’ grains and citrus pulp as cattle feed. The once landfill-ridden byproducts have a purpose and are mixed together to meet the nutritional needs of the cattle. Owner Ron St. John says “A happy cow produces the best milk.” The cows are made comfortable in controlled conditions where the free-stall barns are routinely cleaned, and recycled sand is used for bedding. Alliance Dairies produces 70 percent of its own electricity in the manure recycling process, through utilization of a manure digester. The operation also recycles and reuses 80 percent of its water through this same concept as solid manure is used for field crop fertilizer.
All three of these operations offer a diversity of services and skill sets, but all maintain the common goal of preserving Florida for the future generations through innovative technologies and processes. According to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam, “It is an honor to highlight the efforts and accomplishments of these environmental stewards who serve as outstanding examples of agricultural guardianship. With their help, we can preserve and maintain Florida’s abundant natural resources.”
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