From USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Florida:Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 13, 2014 – Once upon a time, fulltime farmers were the norm. That’s not necessarily the case today. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, more than half of Florida’s principal farm operators report primary occupations other than farming.
Richard McGinley is a good example. He spent his early years in the Miami area. Until he was in high school he lived in the city, then his Dad moved the family to Ocala, located in central Florida, to begin farming. But McGinley had other interests that took him far from farming. He established a career in the nuclear industry and even started his own consulting business.
Then his Dad became ill and McGinley returned to Ocala to help out on the family farm. When his Dad passed away he sold his consulting company and took over fulltime operations at McGinley Farm. Though his life went in a totally different direction than he originally planned, McGinley says farming has been very rewarding and an eye-opening experience. He enjoys working fulltime on his family’s 950 acres; while occasionally doing nuclear consulting on the side.
McGinley is ever the scientist and always researches new and improved ways to farm. He works with local, state and federal agencies to explore ways to modernize his farm while also benefitting the environment. Urban sprawl also has to be considered in his plans since the farm is now surrounded by development.
One of the first things he did when he took over the farm was to call the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, for advice. Jill Dobbs, the local NRCS district conservationist, worked with him to evaluate and determine what he was doing well and what needed attention on his farm. They also explored financial assistance opportunities through the agency.
“Working with NRCS and the programs available has helped me obtain a lot of things I wasn’t able to before. Their staff made me more aware of conservation methods and how I can help out other farmers in the area,” McGinley said.
He applied for and received cost share money for Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program to help improve his land. Through these USDA programs he added a GPS system to his tractor for more precision farming. By being more accurate he has saved energy and nutrient and pesticide costs. Using less fertilizer and pesticide he reduces the amount that can run off his fields into nearby waterways.
To increase those savings he has installed an efficient precision pivot irrigation system that requires less water, added a solar well and recycles the oil he uses on the farm. Cross fencing, another conservation practice, helps rotate livestock in his pastures for more exact grazing.
McGinley has also branched out into growing olive trees. With citrus diseases, such as Citrus Greening decimating Florida’s industry, the University of Florida and local growers are evaluating suitable crop alternatives. After consulting with his local extension agent, he planted a small experimental plot of seven varieties of olive trees, to determine which will grow best in his area.
Ocala, being the Marion County seat, has new housing developments popping up all the time, encroaching on wildlife habitat and hindering wildlife that like to roam on native land. To help create a wildlife corridor, McGinley made a conscious effort to leave a section of his land in trees and native vegetation, and improves these areas by planting special grasses and plants. He often sees deer, turkey, hawks and other birds, gopher tortoise, and occasionally a bald eagle. Many of the animals he sees are listed as threatened or endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Although starting out in a very different profession, McGinley, like many others in farming today, has made the transition to farmer in his own way.
The deadline to apply for Environmental Quality Incentives Program cost share funds this year is Nov. 21. For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or your local USDA service center.