The Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District Spring Farm Tour brought participants in two charter buses to several agricultural operations in the Lake Manatee watershed.
Our first stop was the Manatee County Water Treatment Plant. On average, 37 million gallons of water are distributed daily to unincorporated Manatee County and the cities of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. Two-thirds of the water comes from Lake Manatee, while ground water from a well field in Duette Park comprises the other one-third. The water is treated separately and combined before being distributed. A biological filtration system recently came online, costing up to $19.6 million to build, but will save the county between $300,000 and $1.1 million in costs for powder-activated carbon annually. A staff of about 40 people work to monitor conditions in the lake and operate the dam and plant facilities. https://www.mymanatee.org/departments/utilities/manatee_county_water_division
Our next stop was McKeithen Growers, Inc. a 25-acre tree farm growing trees that are native to Florida, including some which grow throughout the southeast US. Examples are live oak, slash pine, magnolia, red maple, southern red cedar, bald cypress, sweetgum, sycamore and American elm. Eddie and Patricia McKeithen showed participants trees grown in 3-gallon (2-4’ tree) up to 200 gallon (16-22’ tree) containers. Watering methods and times are based on the size, type of tree, natural rainfall and temperature. Once trees are ready they are sold wholesale to landscapers, developers and nurseries. http://mckeithengrowers.com/
The tour stopped for lunch at Bethany Baptist Church in Myakka City, sponsored by the Mosaic Company and catered by Popi’s Family Restaurants.
After lunch we visited Strickland Ranch and Exports, where Reneé Strickland, a 4th generation Florida cattle rancher, let us get a close glimpse of some of their cow/calf herd. The exporting business started as a result of her love for travel and visiting ranches and farms in other countries. She has been traveling to and exporting all kinds of livestock to other countries, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs as well as equipment, feed and hay. Reneé is the immediate past President of the Livestock Exporters Association of the US and currently sits on the Agriculture Political Advisory Committee to Secretary Perdue & Ambassador Lighthizer for International Trade Agreements for Live Animal Exports. http://www.stricklandexports.com/
Gulf Coast Ag, LLC, the final stop on the tour, is a family owned and operated hay business based in Parrish, Florida with over 30 years of experience in the agriculture industry. The Keen family has been in Manatee County for 9 generations. They provide quality, weed-free fertilized hay for livestock. Their premium product consists of Cali Bermuda, Tifton 44, & Jiggs Hay offered in 54″ round bales and 36″- 40″ square bales grown locations in Parrish and Myakka City. The weather cooperated and our hosts Jimmy, Holly, and Vick Keen had quite a number of pieces of equipment working in the field when we arrived, with a variety of hay bales on display while they discussed hay production and their operation. www.gulfcoastag.com
A wide array of tour guides brought different perspectives to our participants from a couple of Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District board members, to Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Trace, along with county, UF/IFAS and NRCS staff members. Guides with farming, ranching and fertilizer company experience also provided unique insights. Students from 4-H and FFA and adult advisors of those organizations were there to give participants an overview of agricultural youth activities in our county. Points of interest, historic, and anecdotal information was shared on the buses while en route to the tour stops.
The Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District hosts the tour each spring to increase the awareness of agricultural operations within the county. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be added to the email list for future farm tours.