UF/IFAS Extension hosted a successful farm tour of the Tri-County Agricultural Area for many interested legislators on November 9, 2017. Gary England, Regional Specialized Extension Agent at the Hastings Agricultural Center, organized the event and partnered with Florida Farm Bureau and many local growers to showcase their farms. The event was well attended with over 40 participants including County Commissioners from St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam Counties as well as Senator Directors and representatives from various House Districts.
Blue Sky Farms
The educational tour started with equipment demonstrations and farming techniques at Blue Sky Farms hosted by Danny Johns. Danny showed his produce from a new alternative crop on the horizon, purple-flesh sweet potatoes as a table variety and their associated vines (or tops) for animal feed. Danny has participated in the cost share program with the St. John’s Water Management District to install a sub-irrigation tile drain system for water conservation.
Barnes Farm, LLLP
The family-owned, fifth generation Barnes Farm, LLLP, showcased their cabbage and helped to educate participants on the requirements and certifications for food safety. The Barnes grow 850 acres of cabbage and sell their produce to Critcher Brothers Produce in North Carolina. They grow five different varieties including three green, one red and one savoy. They pack and store their cabbage in an approximately 300-ton capacity cooler prior to shipment.
UF Hastings Research Area
The UF Cowpen Branch Research Farm highlighted their brussels sprout fertilizer trials and new varieties of heat-tolerant broccoli field trials. Field trials conducted on this farm have demonstrated significant water savings from reduced irrigation and reduced runoff associated with the sub-irrigation tile drain system. The Research Center collects valuable data that helps guide growers in their farm management decisions in regards to crop selection. efficient irrigation techniques, optimal fertilization rates, and expected harvest yields.
The final stretch was a tour through nearly 2,500 acres of sod farms predominantly planted in St. Augustine varieties for lawns. Tater Farms is a wholesale distributor and they demonstrated the efficient mechanization of harvesting turf grass. Although mechanization is expensive, the improved quality of the sod and the precise measurement of turf loaded on each pallet is worth the investment. The farm tour helped bring awareness to the sophistication of agriculture in the TCAA as well as the economic impacts and challenges that growers face every day.