UF/IFAS hosted a legislative farm tour through the Tri-County Agriculture Area (Putnam, St. Johns, and Flagler Counties) for elected officials on November 14, 2019. We visited four farms throughout the day and attended the Farm Bureau CARES Award Banquet for lunch. We had 28 attendees including several of our County Commissioners, FDACS leaders, Property Appraisers, Tax Collectors, Clerks of Court and representatives from Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. We loaded the bus at the Putnam County Extension Center and our first stop was L&M Farms in East Palatka. Farm Managers Adam Lytch and Larry Corn detailed modern advancements in agriculture that promote water and fertilizer savings, while still producing viable crops. All tour attendees stood together in a field of traditionally planted cabbage and compared the advantages of an advanced plasticulture cabbage trial. UF/IFAS has partnered with L&M to conduct a 10-acre trial of cabbage planted on plastic to determine if more cabbage can be produced on less land using plastic mulch and drip irrigation.
Our next stop was at the Hastings Agriculture Extension Center where Gary England and Scott Chambers highlighted our work on alternative crops for the TCAA including artichokes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, and sweet potato. Wendy Mussoline highlighted a successful organic sweet potato trial where four new cultivars are being trialed with a specific focus on nematode resistance. Senator Rubio’s office staff, Ashley Cook, was particularly interested in trying a few of our Violet Queens (purple-flesh variety) and New Boniatos (white-flesh variety).
The Tri-County Farm Bureau Agencies sponsored and organized a farm-filled celebration as three local farmers received the annual CARES awards for environmental stewardship. Awardee for Putnam County was Dan Doran of St. Johns Oaks who grows muscadine grapes, datil peppers, blackberries, blueberries and cut foliage (fern and magnolia) in Crescent City. Dan is conscientious about his water usage and is very proactive in water conservation technologies on his 23-acre farm. St. John’s County Awardee Jon Revels is a potato grower that has an innovative fertilizer applicator that saves nearly 5 tons of fertilizer every 40 acres as part of his precision agriculture program. Tommy Miller of Greene’s Farm in Flagler County grows over a 1000 acres of cabbage that is distributed throughout the United States. Simply put, Tommy says, “if we don’t protect the environment, it can’t protect us”. Please have a look at the terrific farmer highlight video for these three wonderful stewards at https://vimeo.com/372397610.
Our afternoon involved a closer look at Tommy Miller’s cabbage patch off Highway 305 in Bunnell, Florida. Amidst the drizzle of the rain, we watched the crew plant cabbage using a mechanical transplanter while the newest member of Greene’s Farm and recent ABAC graduate Jared Smith explained how they are using beneficial microbes to improve production rather than pumping fumigants into the land. Tommy claims that using the natural biology of the soil is God’s original design for agriculture rather than killing the microbial populations with chemicals. Our final stop was with a third generation beef cattle rancher, Walton Cowart. Walton likes to refer to himself as a “grass farmer” rather than a cowboy and fully understands the balance of art and science necessary to grow healthy pastures to feed his herd. He and his brother David run approximately 200 head of Beefmaster cattle on 1000 acres of improved pasture, timber and wetlands.
Thanks to all our local farmers who are dedicated to being stewards of the land and continuing to put fresh produce on our tables. This was truly a day of celebrating our local farmers and sharing that celebration with important decision-makers!