From the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Governor and Cabinet today unanimously approved the preservation of more than 3,000 acres of environmentally sensitive agricultural lands in Polk and Okeechobee counties, while allowing the land and agriculture operations to continue to contribute to Florida’s economy. The purchases are a part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which partners with Florida’s farmers and ranchers to preserve active agricultural operations and their immense economic and environmental benefits through cost-effective conservation easements.
Today’s partnerships increase the total land preserved by the program to 25,343 acres over 30 conservation easements. Since 2011, 23 projects totaling 21,758 acres have been acquired by the current Governor and Cabinet, a more than 500 percent increase in acres preserved by the program. The perpetual conservation easements will preserve 1,619 acres of Lake Hatchineha Ranch in Polk County and 1,410 acres of the Pelaez & Sons ranch in Okeechobee County.
“Florida’s farmers and ranchers are our state’s original conservationists, and partnering with them through conservation easements is the most cost-effective way to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.
Lake Hatchineha Ranch is a cow/calf operation in Polk County that is within the Catfish Creek Florida Forever Project and surrounded by multiple large tracts of conservation lands, including: Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park (8,000+ acres); South Florida Water Management District’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes; K-Rocker Rural and Family Lands Protection Program conservation easement (789 acres); the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area (1,111 acres); Hatchineha Ranch Mitigation Bank (2,057 acres) and Disney Wilderness Preserve (11,500 acres).
Pelaez & Sons ranch is a cow/calf operation in Okeechobee County just east of the Kissimmee River. The property is adjacent to a federal wetlands reserve program easement and is in close proximity to multiple South Florida Water Management District conservation lands.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in 2001 and has acquired 30 perpetual easements totaling 25,343 acres. The easements protect working agricultural lands threatened by other uses, such as development.
The goals of the program include:
• Protecting valuable agricultural lands;
• Creating conservation easements that ensure sustainable agricultural practices;
• Preventing conversion to non-agricultural land uses in the rural base of Florida; and
• Helping to protect natural resources in conjunction with these agricultural operations.
Florida agriculture has an overall economic impact estimated at more than $120 billion annually, making it the state’s second largest industry. The agriculture industry supports more than 2 million jobs in Florida.
More information on the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program is available here.
For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.