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I’m a potato farmer, and we all have a role to play in Florida water quality

As a farmer, conservation is inherent in our work. Our role is more than just feeding families across the nation. It is making sure we grow our crops in an environmentally conscious manner. Our role is doing more with less so we may help the land to flourish.

My family started Jones Potato Farm back in 1986. My father and I started raising everything from purples, yellows, reds and chip potatoes. Today, our family farm also cultivates green beans and citrus, and raises cattle.

We need to use adequate nutrients, healthy soil and clean water to grow successful crops year after year. Essentially, the nutrients our crops utilize for production are the same nutrients that we, as humans, utilize for our food source. That is why we are committed to protecting our water, wildlife and other natural resources through conservation efforts. It is the circle of a healthy, whole life cycle.

On our potato farm, I’ve witnessed the benefits that agriculture can provide to our land. Preserving Florida’s land and maintaining its health and beauty is how we are able to make a living and feed our communities.

We utilize Best Management Practices (BMPs) to conserve water and improve overall water quality. BMPs are economically viable and technologically feasible measures based on sound science and developed by the state. They include on-farm erosion controls, precision fertilizer application and stormwater management.

But a farmer’s participation in BMPs is one part of the multifaceted solution. In addition to BMPs, we use GPS precision agricultural practices, which have reduced our fertilizer use by 30 percent.

In cooperation with Southwest Florida Water Management District, we have also implemented water management strategies to lessen water use and minimize irrigation runoff to nearby lakes, rivers and streams. In fact, in our first year of using low-volume center pivot irrigation, we saved 70 percent of our water use. This practice helps us conserve more than one million gallons of water daily just on our farm.

Farmers take great care and pride in nurturing the land they use to grow food. Agriculture, however, is just one land use that contributes to the health and sustainability of our water resources.

Today, Florida’s farmlands are slowly disappearing while our population continues to grow. While the agricultural community is working to reduce nitrogen in our water resources, we are outnumbered by the amount of people moving to the state.

Did you know that the average person produces 15 pounds of nitrogen per year? That is up to 22 million pounds of wasted nitrogen that gets introduced back into Florida’s environment in Hillsborough County alone.

When we talk about water quality all Floridians need to do is look in the mirror and ask themselves “What can I do to make a difference?” All residents and businesses play a role in the amount of sewage that gets released due to inadequate wastewater systems. These overflows or spills can and should be prevented. We must invest in and upgrade our wastewater systems. Through an aggressive plan to upgrade our communities’ wastewater system, wastewater spills can become a rarity instead of the norm.

Farmers are doing our part. Unfortunately, most our work is misconstrued by many uneducated and uninformed individuals who have never set foot on a farm or attempted to grow a crop.

By partnering with other organizations like University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and water management districts, farmers work to measure progress, develop solutions and define data-driven tactics to effectively treat and care for their land and our natural resources.

Thankfully, good change is here and it’s happening. But immediate success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, money and great effort for nature to replenish and fortify itself.

Our commitment as stewards of the land is a lifetime covenant. We work with and within Florida’s fertile land every day. It is part of our livelihood to preserve our natural resources, wildlife and land.

Without it, we cannot produce or harvest crops. We cannot feed the mouths of the hungry. We cannot support our communities or Florida’s economy. We cannot protect the lands from development. Most importantly, we cannot preserve it for our future generations.

Water quality touches all Floridians. We all have a role to play in its protection. We need the support of Floridians and our Legislature to expand access and investments beyond BMPs to protect our natural resources.

So the next time you think about water quality, think about what you are doing to make a difference in protecting our water resources for the future.

Alan Jones is a potato farmer in Manatee County and owner of Jones Potato Farm in Parrish.

To read the full article in the Tampa Bay Times, click here.


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