TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced the 2023 winners of the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award: Rocking K Cattle, Island Grove Wine Company, and Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery. The Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award has been presented annually since 1994 and spotlights environmentally innovative growers and ranchers who share a commitment to protecting and preserving Florida’s resources while continuing to produce the world-class agricultural goods we rely on.
“I am proud to recognize these three proud and innovative Florida agriculture operations as the recipients of the 2023 Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “These growers and ranchers exemplify innovation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable practices that are essential for the future of Florida agriculture. Their commitment to preserving Florida’s natural resources while continuing to produce the highest quality agricultural goods is truly praiseworthy.”
Rocking K Cattle, located in Odessa, Florida, stands out for its sustainable cattle ranching and hay production. Kelly Fulford, who operates Rocking K Cattle is a trailblazer in the field, has implemented multiple Best Management Practices from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to safeguard water quality and local wildlife. By employing rotational grazing across seven cross-fence pastures, Kelly provides fresh forage to cattle while allowing the land to recuperate. To prevent erosion, feeding areas and mineral boxes are rotated and placed away from sensitive areas. Using GPS-guided systems, precise nutrient application is based on soil test results. Kelly also diligently preserves the water quality of natural ditches and cypress ponds on her property. Her commitment extends beyond her ranch, as she actively engages in educating the public about sustainable cattle ranching, hay production, and responsible land management. Kelly is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.
Island Grove Wine Company, situated in Hawthorne, Florida, encompasses a blueberry farm, a nursery, and a winery. Originally founded by Ken Patterson, Island Grove Wine Company is currently managed by Jerod Gross and Sarah Aschliman, VP of Marketing, who diligently implement Best Management Practices across their locations in Putnam, Alachua, and DeSoto counties. Sustainability and the production of a safe product are paramount to the Island Grove family. The north Florida operation operates entirely on organic production, utilizing drip soil water conservation techniques, drain tile systems to minimize runoff, organic weed control measures, grass buffers for nutrient filtration, wetland conservation, and wildflower areas to support native pollinators. Notably, Island Grove maximizes its harvest by transforming leftover fruit into wine, effectively achieving zero waste. Island Grove wines can be found in prominent retail chains such as Publix, Target, Whole Foods, and Total Wine across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Island Grove Wine Company is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.
Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery, located near Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, specializes in the growth of commercial, retail, and wholesale citrus trees within fully enclosed, inspect-proof greenhouses spanning 90,000 square feet. Owners Nate and Anna Jameson prioritize land sustainability and have implemented eco-friendly measures to reduce water and fertilizer usage through Best Management Practices. Transitioning from overhead to drip irrigation has resulted in a remarkable 60% water savings, reducing water consumption from 24,000 to less than 10,000 gallons per day. Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery also employs coconut coir, a sustainable by-product of coconut oil, as their potting medium due to its sanitation properties and compatibility with a liquid fertigation system. Outside the greenhouses, the nursery has planted pine trees as windbreaks and to create natural habitats for local wildlife. Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.
Visit FDACS.gov for more information about the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award, including past winners.
Commissioner Wilton Simpson Announces Cost-Share Assistance for Agricultural Producers Impacted by Hurricane Idalia
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced a cost-share assistance program to support agricultural producers severely impacted by Hurricane Idalia. The cost-share assistance program will be administered though the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Water Policy and will support agricultural producers in repairing or replacing damaged irrigation systems, while simultaneously promoting agricultural water efficiency and reducing nutrient application. Additional information on this program and how producers apply can be found here.
Commissioner Wilton Simpson said, “Hurricane Idalia caused widespread crop and livestock losses and severe damage to agricultural infrastructure. This innovative cost-share program will work to support our hardest hit growers who lost much of their 2023 crop and are now looking for ways to repair or replace hundreds of irrigation systems ahead of the next growing season. While this targeted program will not be able to support every impacted agricultural producer, it is another important recovery resource. I will continue working with local, state, and federal partners to ensure that impacted producers have access to the recovery resources they deserve.”
The assistance program will focus on existing irrigation systems and offer a reimbursement rate of 75% for eligible projects, practices, and equipment, up to a maximum of $150,000 per producer or entity. Commissioner Simpson raised the maximum eligible grant amount from $50,000 to $150,000. It is important to note that these funds will not cover items already fully insured. Eligible repairs will target water and nutrient savings, with a commitment of a five-year contract by the producer or entity to ensure long-term water and nutrient conservation benefits over the irrigation system’s twenty-year lifespan.
Eligibility for the program includes operations in a severely impacted county, enrollment in the applicable FDACS best management practices program, compliance with state and federal regulations, including water use permits for pivot locations, and a commitment to minimal tillage and conservation-based practices. The maximum reimbursement amount is set at $150,000 per producer or entity per contract.
Eligible projects, tools, and equipment include but are not limited to pump bowl upgrades, irrigation retrofits, variable rate irrigation systems, electrical conductivity mapping, precision soil sampling, soil moisture sensors, new control panels, irrigation system automation, flow meters, automatic shutoff devices, fertigation systems, weather stations, variable frequency drives, and other efficiencies or enhancements identified by the Mobile Irrigation Lab.
Through existing statutory authority and agency budget, FDACS will initially use allocated funds for cost-share. Given the substantial cost of equipping irrigation systems with precision agriculture technology, the department is actively exploring additional funding avenues to assist more producers.
This cost-share assistance program is in addition to a variety of other agricultural recovery resources offered by state, local, and federal partners, including:
- Bridge Loan for Ag Producers
- Disaster Programs Administered by FSA [ ]
- Natural Disasters and Crop Insurance [ ]
- Hurricane Idalia Relief Fund
- 2023 Agriculture Disaster Impact Assessment [ ]
- Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool
- Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
- Livestock Indemnity Program
- Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybee and Farm-raised Fish Program
- Tree Assistance Program
- Emergency Forest Restoration Program
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- Emergency Watershed Protection Program
- Farm Loan Discovery Tool
- Disaster Work Log [ ]
- Cash Payments ECP Guidance [ ]
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