Florida’s farms and environment go hand-in-hand

My family and I are forestland owners and cattle ranchers in Chiefland and our commitment to environmental stewardship has earned us recognition from many statewide and regional organizations. As farmers, we play an important role in caring for our state’s natural resources, and that’s why I support SB 88, which will strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm laws.

Agriculture and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand, and there are many intangible benefits that our farms, ranches and forests provide to our environment.

More than 17 million acres in Florida, or nearly one-half of our state’s landmass, is forestland. And this land is critical to our water supply, air quality, climate, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

These forests contribute immensely to Florida’s water quality and quantity. The land helps capture, store and filter water, which replenishes Florida’s aquifer, the main source of our drinking water.

Florida’s air quality also benefits greatly from the vast forests across the Sunshine State. Trees remove air pollution and emit oxygen. Particles, odors and other pollutants, especially carbon dioxide, in the air are absorbed by trees. The trees then use the energy from the sun to produce and release oxygen back into the air.

All this contributes to Florida’s air quality being the cleanest among the most populous states, having earned certification from the federal government as meeting National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which track six pollutants dangerous to public health: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

Throughout the forests, many endangered plant and wildlife species live and thrive. Red-cockaded woodpeckers, Florida scrub-jays and gopher tortoises live and travel through the undeveloped forest lands that provide for their habitat. Imperiled plant species like Godfrey’s butterwort, scrub plums and Rugel’s pawpaw protrude out from the forest floors, as well.

Without forestlands, including the timber operation we own and manage, these precious environmental benefits to our state would vanish. That’s a real possibility given our growing population and, with that, the rising demand for new homes and neighborhoods.

Not only does Florida’s exponential population growth increase the pressure for development, but it also heightens the risk of nuisance lawsuits. Formerly urban residents spread out to the rural communities, and these new neighbors are not accustomed to the operations of a farm.

Unjust nuisance lawsuits put little-to-no burden on the complainant, but farmers are required to hire attorneys and spend time, money and resources to defend their normal operations. We must protect agriculture against unjust nuisance lawsuits if we want to keep these precious lands protected from development.

SB 88, proposed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, strengthens Florida’s Right to Farm Act. The bill limits complaints to those that come from one-half-mile geographic proximity. SB 88 also enhances the evidence standard so that those who bring complaints against farmers have the evidence to prove their concerns.

I support SB 88 because it supports the long-term sustainability of our agriculture industry and the many, many environmental benefits it brings to our state.

Lynetta Usher Griner, an owner and operator of Usher Land & Timber in Chiefland, co-chairs the Florida Climate-Smart Agriculture Working Group and serves as a member of the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy.


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