PALATKA, Fla., Nov. 3, 2017 — Chances are, the vegetables and maybe even the potato chips you’re buying in your local supermarket are grown on local farms in northeast Florida. There’s also a good chance those farms are partnering with the St. Johns River Water Management District on innovative practices and technologies to lessen groundwater use and reduce agricultural runoff entering the St. Johns River while working to keep their farms productive.
“We have asked farmers to increase their irrigation efficiency and reduce nutrient runoff from their farming operations, and we can help through our district cost-share funding opportunities,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “It’s exciting to partner with these local farmers who share our goal of protecting Florida’s natural resources for future generations.”
The district’s Governing Board recently approved contracts for nearly $1.5 million in cost-share funds for nine agricultural projects in the Tri County Agricultural Area (TCAA) of Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties. Together, the projects will reduce water use by 35 million gallons per year and reduce total nitrogen loading by 1,680 pounds per year and total phosphorus loading by 821 pounds per year.
Among farms selected to receive funds are:
$246,033 in cost-share to treat 117 acres using sub-surface irrigation/drain tile
“L&M Farms is proud to partner with the district and to be a leader in both conservation and sustainability with a continued commitment to protect our natural resources by reducing water use,” said Adam Lytch, L&M’s operations manager. “After more than five decades, L&M is still well grounded in the principles of hard work, respect, passion, leadership and excellence — and always with unyielding integrity.”
Joe McGee, founder of L&M in 1964, and Larry Corn, now L&M Farms general manager, started farming together in the early 1980s. But their families’ partnership goes even further back — their fathers farmed together in the 1950s. Decades later, L&M Farms has continued to invest in farmland in the TCAA and expand their operations.
Today, Larry Corn and his son Brett still farm in Putnam County, growing potatoes (new crop reds, whites and golds), cabbage, broccoli and greens.
$224,534 in cost-share to treat 89 acres using sub-surface irrigation/drain tile
David and Cristol Lee of First Farms grow Asian vegetables.
“This program has allowed us to save on water usage, which helps the environment,” said Cristol Lee, the company’s vice president. “We have also been able to start our crops earlier and extend the growing season. Thank you for offering this program which truly benefits both the natural resources and the farmers.”
$175,967 in cost-share to treat 55 acres using sub-surface irrigation/drain tile
Prim Parker Farms is a long-time family farming business in Elkton that grows potatoes.
“Since the installation of the irri-drain, we’ve seen an increased use of the land as well as production, while greatly reducing the usage of water,” said Prim Parker. “I consider that a win all the way around!”
$111,438 in cost-share to treat 40 acres using sub-surface irrigation/drain tile
Scott Parker Farms is a long-time family farming business in Elkton that grows potatoes.
“The sub-irrigation drain tile project has been by far the most successful project for sustainable agriculture we have seen,” said Scott Parker. “We have big reductions in groundwater consumption and nutrient runoff while actually increasing productivity. A big thank you to all of the partners involved.”
Funding for the TCAA Water Management Partnership cost-share program is provided on a year-to-year basis by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the district. Together, the agencies select agricultural projects for cost-share opportunities. A fourth partner, the Natural Resource and Conservation Service, provides federal funds for cost-share opportunities in the TCAA.
More than 78 projects have received funding since the partnership was initiated in 2012.
These projects are anticipated to contribute to the improved health of the St. Johns River through on-farm and regional water management projects and practices that reduce the movement of nutrients to the river, improve water conservation and result in more efficient farm management while maintaining the long-term viability of agriculture in the TCAA.