(FDACS) — Sixth-generation Florida rancher Jim Strickland recently published an opinion piece on the important role Florida’s ranches play in combating climate change and preventing over-development. The op-ed was published in The Invading Sea, a collaboration of 25 Florida daily newspapers and WLRN Public Media reporting on climate change and environmental issues, and a project of the Florida Climate Reporting Network.
Strickland is the owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch, one of Florida’s largest cow-calf operations. He also serves as Co-Chairman of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group, Vice Chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, and as Board Secretary of the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park Authority, a direct support organization of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
State Efforts: Last week, Strickland joined Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state lawmakers for a press conference on energy and climate legislation in the Florida House and Senate. HB 993 and SB 1362 will inventory greenhouse gas emissions and fund energy and water conservation improvements on Florida farms. The legislation also creates the Resilient Farms Pilot Program, providing carbon sequestration incentives to farmers who undertake carbon farming efforts, reducing carbon dioxide through tree planting, cover crops, and other means. Carbon farming has been called a “turning point” in Florida, according to scientists. FDACS is home to the state’s Office of Energy.
Federal Efforts: Commissioner Fried encouraged the Biden Administration to support carbon sequestration efforts in the state-federal partnership plan she launched in February. In the 30-page plan, Fried and FDACS propose public-private partnerships to incentivize carbon farming on state and federal lands, alongside other climate change, energy efficiency, and renewable energy projects. The plan has been applauded by members of Congress, national think tanks, and agriculture and cannabis organizations. The Biden Administration supports incentivizing carbon farming and has proposed billions to pay growers for implementing sustainable farming practices.
Read below for Strickland’s opinion piece.
But they’re threatened by the huge numbers of people moving to the state and the developers who are building homes for them
By Jim Strickland, Florida rancher
I consider myself blessed to live and work as a rancher in Florida. As a caretaker of the land, I have both the privilege and the obligation to protect the habitat and wildlife on our ranchlands.
Florida ranches are part of the solution to protect Florida’s environment. Ranchers engage in conservation practices that maintain grasslands, healthy soils, and healthy watersheds. These practices also have a role in combating the effects of climate change.
Rotational grazing, maintaining appropriate cattle herd sizes and managing for native habitat reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. Cattle ranching in Florida protects the environment, maintains rural landscapes, and supports the Florida agricultural economy.
But Florida ranches are in danger of being lost as Florida grows by about 300,000 people a year. This growth results in the conversion of thousands of acres of ranches every year.
So, managing ranches for greater conservation and environmental benefits is important, but offering incentives to protect ranches from the land conversion is essential as well. Once these ranchlands are converted to subdivisions and shopping malls, we forever lose the environmental values they provide.
Ranchers are committed to protecting Florida’s wildlife and water while also helping to address climate change. Many ranchers are working with conservation groups and state and federal government to restore wetlands, provide wildlife habitat and corridors, and help sequester carbon in both wetland soils and grasslands.
Ranches provide important habitats for protected wildlife species such as the Florida panther. Ranches are also critical to protecting wildlife corridors, another critical strategy for addressing climate change. Our ranches protect wetlands, offer opportunities to restore additional wetlands, and provide grasslands that can help store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
My colleagues have for years collaborated with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences experts to make ranching more economically and ecologically sustainable.
In 2021 we’ll mark the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon bringing the first cows to what would become our state. We wouldn’t have stayed in business since the 16th century without caring for the land.
We continue this stewardship through a cowboy-scientist alliance with UF/IFAS. Through innovation, we’re constantly improving our efficiency and reducing our environmental footprint. Florida, and the planet, are better off for it.
I am excited by how ranchers continue to be even better at contributing to climate solutions while providing wildlife habitat and protecting watersheds. Let’s all work together to make sure that Florida has the support, programs and funds to protect our ranches and to restore and manage grasslands and other habitats on these ranches to achieve our climate, wildlife, and water conservation goals.
Jim Strickland is the owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Big Red Cattle Company and Blackbeard’s Ranch. He is Co-Chairman of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group, sponsored by the University of Florida and Solutions from the Land, and Vice-Chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, an organization that advocates for the protection of Florida’s ranchlands.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.