FL Farm Bureau South Florida Ag Report

Gary Cooper Citrus, Florida, Sugar

Charlie ShinnThis report from Charlie Shinn, Asst Director, Gov’t and Community Affairs, Florida Farm Bureau Federation:
Dry Season Starts Early in South Florida
The regular dry season for south Florida leaped ahead by about a month and is now in full swing. It is during this time that farmers watch Lake Okeechobee levels very closely. As the bellwether for water supply in South Florida, it is imperative that ample water is available for the vegetable growing season which supplies the eastern United States with fresh food during the winter and spring.
The current level of Lake Okeechobee is 13.74 feet NGVD which is in the Base Flow band on current lake schedule. The lake level is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address safety concerns due to the condition of the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding the lake.

If the lake drops into the Water Shortage Management Band, corresponding cutbacks to water supply result in very high crop loss. These losses are felt statewide as agriculture is one of the major drivers of Florida’s economy.

The dry season usually runs from late October to early June.

South Dade Farmers Are Targeted Unjustly … AgainEnvironmental groups have recently set their sights on Farmers in South Dade as the blame for water conditions in the Biscayne Bay. What is interesting though is the deteriorating conditions in the Bay are a relatively recent occurrence compared to the farming practice that they note as the causal agent.

Farmers have seasonally lowered canal levels since the early 1900’s in the region to be able to enter farm fields and produce a crop in the late fall and early winter season. This practice, known as ‘seasonal drawdown’ allows the farmer to till, plant and harvest a crop of vegetables and other field crops for northern markets. Without the annual drawdown, field accessibility is severely limited and crop damage occurs due to root damage.

In recent years, scientists with the Biscayne Bay National Park and environmental interests have noted a deterioration of water conditions. They have stated that the seasonal drawdown causes lower volumes of water to enter the Bay in the mid to late spring and creates high volumes of fresh flows in the late fall to early winter season when the drawdown is taking place.

The disconnect seems to be that this practice has been taking place for almost a century and the deteriorating conditions are relatively recent. Obviously, additional study is needed before blame is placed. An additional causal agent may be the intense pressure by the recreating public that is placed on the Bay each weekend.

Farmers are working closely with the South Florida Water Management District in the management of the canal levels to keep the drawdown discharges to a minimum while continuing to grow crops for a narrow market window.

An interesting side note… 85% of Dade County is owned by the government (local, state, and federal).

South Florida Citrus Grower Awarded Prestigious Ag-Environmental Leadership Award
Pete Spyke (Ft. Pierce) is one of three recipients of the Ag-Environmental Leadership Award, presented by Florida Agricultural Commissioner Charlie Bronson during the Florida Farm Bureau Annual Convention last week in Daytona Beach.

With several devastating diseases attacking Florida citrus, Spyke started looking worldwide for answers. He found them in South Africa and Australia and introduced ‘open hydroponics’ to the state’s citrus industry.

Starting with trials in his own land, Spyke found that dosing just the right amount of water and nutrients to the tree each day allowed optimum conditions for the trees to grow in the areas that have diseases such as Citrus Greening and Citrus Canker. Dosage rates are highly regulated to account for evapotranspiration and tree growth.

That was only part of the solution though due to the higher cost of the irrigation system and the fact that the lives of the trees are still greatly reduced due to the disease pressure. Spyke developed a method to plant trees at a higher density to compensate for the higher production costs.

Among his advanced growing techniques, Spyke has also developed concepts where the growers land may be better utilized. With higher tree densities and open hydroponics, a grower may not need to plant as many acres for the same size crop. This will allow him to only plant the more productive areas while allowing some of the remaining land to be used for wetlands, riparian buffers or upland wooded areas.

The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is studying the open hydroponics concept in other areas of the state to determine how this might be utilized elsewhere.

Spyke’s innovations have given hope back into the floundering Florida citrus industry.

Monthly Reports Available on Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s Website
This report is also available on Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s website (www.floridafarmbureau.org). Click on ‘Issues and Public Policy’ on the left side of the home page, then click on the ‘Water and Natural Resources’ subheading.

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