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Agriculture Press Release
November 20, 2000
Crawford presents Ag-Environmental Awards to two farming operations during ceremonies in Orlando
ORLANDO ó Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford presented awards to two agricultural operations in recognition of their leadership in promoting progressive environmental practices.
The "2000 Commissionerís Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Awards" were presented by Deputy Commissioner Dr. Martha Roberts during a breakfast ceremony at the Florida Farm Bureau Federationís annual convention in Orlando on Friday, November 17. The awards program is now in its seventh year.
"Over the years many Florida farmers have, with little fanfare, implemented innovative environmental practices," Crawford said. "For too long these positive efforts have been overlooked. This award publicly recognizes Florida farmers for their environmental accomplishments, spreads the word about the importance of environmental stewardship, and encourages others to adopt similar practices."
Crawford said that modern farmers are increasingly sensitive to the environmental consequences of their practices and have made major strides in preserving the earthís natural resources while harvesting its bounty to feed the nation and the world.
This yearís winners are: Evans Properties, Inc., located in Vero Beach; and Pacific Tomato Growers, Ltd., located in Palmetto.
Nominations for the awards were received earlier this year by a screening committee composed of scientific and technical experts with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which selected the finalists. The two winners were then selected from the
group of finalists by a selection committee made up of representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the stateís Water Management Districts, the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Cattlemenís Association, the Florida Dairy Association, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Floridaís Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Florida Citrus Mutual, and the Florida Forestry Association.
"The winners should take pride in the fact that they were chosen not solely by a governmental committee, but by their peers as well," Crawford said. "They have been recognized by their colleagues and other highly respected groups as representing the pinnacle of environmental stewardship, setting worthy examples for others to follow."
Pacific Tomato Growers, Ltd.
Autumn in North Florida is the traditional beginning to Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.ís tomato harvest. Itís the start of a year-round cycle that sees the company harvesting crops throughout the country -- beginning in Quincy and later moving to Palmetto, Ruskin, Fort Myers, and then on to Maryland, Virginia and California.
While it produces a variety of fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, peppers, squash and citrus, Pacific Tomato Growers is best known for its fresh-market tomato production. With 15,000 acres in production across the country, Pacific Tomatoís growing, packing and shipping operation provides a continuous and steady supply of tomatoes year-round.
"Certainly these days thereís much more emphasis on marketing and branding," said Mac Carraway, chief financial officer. "However, that will only take you as far as the quality of the product that you put in the box. So weíve always had an emphasis on quality, appearance and taste for our customers. That drives everything."
To maintain this consistent flow of quality product from its nationwide operations, Pacific Tomato Growers takes a "whole farm" management approach. While it recognizes the need for Best Management Practices, or BMPs, on all its farms, the company knows that a "one size fits all" plan will not work for each operation. In Florida alone -- from the rolling hills of the Panhandle to the flatwoods of south-central Florida -- Pacific Tomatoís operations span four of the stateís five water management districts.
Since each operation faces different needs, concerns and governmental regulations, Pacific Tomato is working with regional water managers to establish site-specific BMPs, taking into consideration each locationís natural features, such as soils, topography and vegetation.
"We feel that creating a constructive dialogue with the staff and managers at the Southwest Florida Water Management District has enabled us both to benefit and do a better job," Carraway said. "Weíre both looking -- perhaps in a different way -- for the same objective of the long-term maintenance of the resource. We need that in order to be an ongoing economically viable farm and farm product company. And itís necessary from the standpoint of the district to make sure that the environment is protected for future generations of Floridians."
At the headwater of the Myakka River sits the Flatford Swamp. A large natural basin near a number of Manatee County farms, the swamp was beginning to show signs of stress. Due to an excess of water flowing into the swamp, trees were dying off at an alarming rate. The Southwest Florida Water Management District became concerned: if the Flatford Swamp is damaged, the delicate estuaries of Charlotte Harbor, at the other end of the Myakka River, could be affected. The water management district began examining ways of reducing water flow into Flatford Swamp. Understanding the need to maintain the health of the water body, Pacific Tomato Growers was the first to partner with the district.
"Anytime you have a private/public partnership that works together to solve a problem or issue, the public always benefits," said Ron Cohen, irrigation engineer with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "The partnership that we have is the Agricultural Conservation Partnership Program, where Pacific Tomato Growers is working with three different best management practices to develop a toolbox for their site-specific conditions to utilize to protect the resources."
The program involves experimenting with the BMPs on three production scale plots of 30 to 50 acres each, with the goal of conserving water and preventing runoff at Pacific Tomatoís Myakka City farm.
The first, known as the Tailwater Recovery Seepage Interception System, uses perforated pipe to line the downhill end of the field, thus preventing seepage of groundwater past a set boundary. The water is then pumped to the field and reused. Another utilizes a fully enclosed subsurface seepage irrigation system in which heavy-duty drip tubing is completely buried. This conserves water by minimizing evaporation. The third field is irrigated by a conventional drip method using disposable tubing, which applies directly to the root zone. This project allows for the first time a side-by-side comparison of these BMPs in a production setting.
While these BMPs will help reduce tailwater runoff entering the Flatford, there is still a concern about the excessive amount of water there. In another innovative public/private partnership -- the Surface Water Exchange Project -- Pacific Tomato Growers is working with the water management district to remove excess surface water from the Flatford. By placing a withdrawal point within the swamp, Pacific Tomato can remove enough water to irrigate 500 acres of row crops. This will not only reduce substantially the amount of permitted ground water withdrawals, it will also relieve pressure on the stressed Flatford.
"We are responsible for taking care of these assets because they represent our living," Carraway said. "We have to have water. It makes no sense for us to waste water. We have to have soil conservation. Itís absolutely a necessity for us to have healthy sustainable crop land. My view is optimistic about agriculture and the care that it takes of its soil and water resources. I think itís critical that Florida nourish its agricultural environment, and I think that Pacific Tomato Growers is going to be there in 25 years emphasizing quality and stewardship as part of our basic philosophy."
Evans Properties, Inc.
In the past, a farmer who owned a 100-acre grove could care for it himself. He knew the soil and every tree in it. Today, thanks to technology, a farmer can still know and care for each tree -- even in a grove covering thousands of acres.
Today, "Precision Agriculture" allows growers to have more information about their land and their trees than ever thought possible. With the aid of computers and high-tech equipment, the growers at Evans Properties, Inc., can have at hand the age, productivity and origin of every tree in their 30,000 acres of citrus groves.
"This technology gives you expanded ability to allow a good manager to operate on a much greater amount of acreage," said Ron Edwards, president and chief executive officer of Evans Properties. "It allows you to see what changes over the years, keep all of the historical data for soil tests, foliar tests, and fertilizer programs."
Founded by J. Emmett Evans in 1951, Evans Properties, Inc., has groves in eight counties across Florida. Evans has distinguished itself as an environmentally conscious operation in many areas including innovation, water conservation, and wildlife protection. Technology has allowed Evans to see its operation in a new and exciting way.
One of the most important decisions to be made when planting young citrus trees is selecting the rootstock. When a new grove is laid out, the soil is tested. Because the soil types in the South Florida flatwoods may change every 50 to 100 feet, a machine that measures water-holding capacity is used to identify the different soils. A variety of citrus rootstocks can then be matched to the best soil type for optimum health and productivity. In addition to charting the location of the various soils, the data collected can help the manager determine nutrient amounts and irrigation plans.
To get the most out of its citrus operation, trucks equipped with lasers and a global positioning system map the image and location of every tree. That information -- including age, nursery of origin, rootstock, productivity, and nutrient applications -- is stored in a computer database, giving the grove manager the treeís extensive history. Remote electronic weather stations relay information to other locations, alerting the manager of favorable conditions for application of nutrients and pesticides.
The amount of pesticides being used is greatly reduced due to ultra-low-volume applicators. In addition, Evans uses "tree see technology." An ultrasonic or laser eye mounted to a tractor enables a sprayer to deliver a precise amount of pesticide to each tree, or turn off an applicator when no tree is detected. This eliminates unnecessary and costly use of pesticides.
"We found that in the average grove that saves maybe 25 percent of the chemical," Edwards said. "Thatís good business as well as good stewardship of the land. In most cases, I think that good stewardship and good business go hand in hand. There are not too many cases where it really conflicts. I donít think itís a tradeoff that you have to make."
But for all the high-tech equipment used, Evans still relies on the hands-on approach when it comes to minimizing pesticide use and staying aware of the general health of the trees. Scouts will check leaves in the field for presence of pests and determine if and when pesticides need to be used. The scout will also collect a few young leaves and send them to a certified lab for leaf tissue analysis. The result of this test helps the manager decide when to apply fertilizer.
Reservoirs have been built to conserve water for irrigation and freeze protection as well as to control the amount of discharge beyond the property. Using reservoirs to collect rainwater also reduces pumping from freshwater wells. The reservoirs use natural filtration to improve the quality of discharged water. The reservoirs are also stocked with fish to further clean the water. Sampled regularly by an authorized lab, water leaving the property is often cleaner than when it came in. In a move to further reduce water consumption, Evans has converted to microjets and drip irrigation throughout its operation.
"Most all of our pump stations are metered so that you know how much youíve put out," Edwards said. "We run the water in small bursts where there are only a couple of hours of water run at a time, where you donít run the water past the root zone. We use tensiometers and surface wells to indicate what the water levels are in the groves so that the irrigation is timed to just what the plant needs. You donít over water, you donít underwater. Youíre conserving it in every way."
Attention to environmental guidelines is apparent in Evansí maintenance area. Safety standards are rigorously followed in the machine shop. Containment areas enclosing the fuel tanks protect ground water. Residue removed from field equipment at special wash stations drains into holding tanks for safe disposal.
The Evans family doesnít just demonstrate good stewardship in the way they run their citrus operation. Showing a deep respect for the land, they have set aside nearly 300 acres of wildlife habitat at Bluefield Grove. This voluntary wildlife sanctuary was established expressly for the preservation of indigenous species.
"Stewardship is a long-term process and objective of the whole system of how you manage the groves with both inputs, people, water, best management practices in general," Edwards said. "So itís good business to be a good steward of the land. You have to meld all these different pieces together of technology, management, and just good sense and old practical knowledge thatís always worked together to be competitive and stay in business. And I think going the extra mile, we try to always be practical and not just do something for show. And in the long-term I think it pays off."
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