Funding Needed to Preserve and Protect Florida Ag

Josh McGill Cattle, Environment

By: Abbey Taylordeseret1

Florida cattle farmers and the Florida Conservation Group are advocating for more funding of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) and the Florida Forever program. RFLPP is an Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Its mission is the protection of agricultural lands. Florida Forever is a conservation lands program that provides conservation easements in order to protect natural resource areas and water resources in Florida. These programs are vital to the health and preservation of Florida’s landscape, as well as the protection of Florida’s water quality and supply to urban areas.

Florida’s beautiful beaches and popular theme parks encourage a lot of tourism in the state and makes Florida a prime location to move to. However, beyond those attractions lie millions of acres of farmland. More than 5.5 million acres of this farmland is dedicated to cattle production. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida’s cattle industry takes up nearly one-half of all Florida agricultural land and is a $3 billion industry. Florida is home to five of the top-10 largest cow/calf operations in the United States, including the largest single brood cow herd in the country.

Cattle ranchlands protect Florida’s native wildlife and plants. The land also serves as a great natural water storage system that ensures clean water is being supplied to urban areas.

However, Florida cattle production continues to dwindle due to the increasing population forcing more commercial and residential development. As ranchlands disappear, so do the natural resources thriving on the land. Conservation easements used by the RFLPP and Florida Forever could help preserve these lands and cattle production, despite Florida’s changing landscape. Conservation easements put the land in private ownership and on the tax rolls to ensure it never gets developed. The owner of the land is then responsible for maintaining the land’s natural resources. This guarantees the land will stay the way it is forever.

Cattle farmers and the Florida Conservation Group firmly believe that preserving the land in the Everglades Headwaters (north of Lake Okeechobee) is part of the solution to eradicating the toxic algae blooms plaguing Lake Okeechobee and its nearby estuaries because of the land’s water-storage process. If this land is paved over for development, that solution disappears.

The Florida Conservation Group and various cattle farmers are calling on legislators to allocate more funds to the RFLPP and Florida Forever in order to preserve these lands, protect the cattle industry, protect native wildlife and aid the effort of clearing Lake Okeechobee’s toxic algae blooms.

Ideally, Florida Conservation Group would like $100 million allocated to RFLPP. Before the recession, Florida Forever received $300 million a year. Last year, it received $15 million. Florida Conservation Group is hoping legislators will restore $100 million this year to Florida Forever. The conservation group and cattle farmers believe that $200 million is a small price to pay in exchange for preserving Florida’s natural resources and helping Florida’s environment along the way.