Seventeen North Florida farmers were honored guests at the 6th annual Santa Fe basin CARES supper and celebration held at the DeChamplain Heaven’s Gate Farm in Trenton, Fla. on October 30. Farmers being honored represented five counties in North Florida—Gilchrist, Levy, Alachua, Columbia and Bradford. An estimated 400 attendees gathered to recognize the positive efforts being made to protect and conserve water in North Florida.
CARES (County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship) is a program developed by the Suwannee River Partnership and Florida Farm Bureau to promote sound environmental and agricultural practices that help save water, prevent pollution and conserve energy.
Rep. Debbie Boyd hosted the event and guest speakers included Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson, Florida Farm Bureau Assistant to the President Pat Cockrell, Louis Shiver, Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board Chairman, Dr. Joseph Joyce, executive associate vice president, U.F. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Carlos Suarez, state conservationist, Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The CARES program encourages farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) on their farms and operations. BMPs are practical, economically feasible actions that agricultural producers can take to reduce the amount of fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants from entering the area’s water resources. These practices benefit both the environment and the farmer.
Since the program’s inception in 1999, the Partnership has managed to achieve exceptionally high participation rates. Currently, 90 percent of dairies, 99 percent of poultry farms and 70 percent of row crop farms are participating in the program and helping protect the environment.
Through BMPs, farmers are saving an average of one billion gallons of water each crop season and using an approximately half the amount of fertilizers they were using before.
Over the nine year period, more than 330 farmers have made investments in infrastructure and practices designed to benefit the environment. These farmers have committed to protect the area’s water resources and have voluntarily agreed to install and manage BMPs on their farms.
The Suwannee River Partnership is a group of 63 local, state and federal agencies and other participating members dedicated to improving water quality and strengthening agriculture in North Florida.
For more information about CARES or the Suwannee River Partnership, visit www.suwannee.org or www.thisfarmcares.org.