Human resources

Florida farmers are on the front line to protect our resources

As a farmer, conservation is inherent in our work. Our role is not limited to feeding families across the country. This is to ensure that we grow our crops in an environmentally friendly way. Our role is to do more with less to help the earth prosper.

My family started Jones Potato Farm in 1986. My dad and I started growing everything from purple, yellow, red and french fries. Today, our family farm also grows green beans and citrus fruits, and we also raise cattle.

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

On our potato farm, I witnessed the benefits agriculture can bring to our land. Preserving Florida’s land and maintaining its health and beauty is how we can earn a living and nurture our communities.

We use best management practices to conserve water and improve overall water quality. Best management practices are economically viable and technologically feasible measures based on sound science and developed by the state. They include on-farm erosion control, precision fertilizer application and stormwater management.

But a farmer’s participation in best management practices is part of the multi-faceted solution. In addition to these practices, we use GPS precision farming practices, which have reduced our fertilizer use by 30%.

In cooperation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, we have also implemented water management strategies to reduce 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% of our water usage. This practice helps us conserve over 1 million gallons of water per day. And it’s right on our farm.

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

By partnering with other organizations – including the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and water management districts – farmers are working to measure progress, develop solutions and define tactics based on data to effectively treat and care for their lands and our natural resources.

Fortunately, the good change is here – it is happening. But immediate success doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time, money and great effort for nature to replenish and strengthen.

Our commitment as stewards of the earth is a lifelong covenant. We work with and in the fertile lands of Florida every day. The preservation of our natural resources, our wildlife and our territory is part of our livelihood.

Without it, we cannot produce or harvest crops. We cannot feed the mouths of the hungry. We cannot support our communities or the Florida economy. We cannot protect land from development.

More importantly, we cannot preserve it for our future generations.

Water quality affects all Floridians. We all have a role to play in protecting it. We need the support of Floridians and our legislature to expand access and investments beyond best management practices 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 the owner of Jones Potato Farm in Parrish.