Could farmers make money by helping clean up Florida’s water supply?
It’s called “wetlaculture.”
The marriage between agriculture and wetlands restoration is being pitched by scientists as the middle ground in the tug of war between the farming industry and environmentalists.
“It’s an approach for putting more wetlands back on the landscape but it’s also an approach for allowing more sustainable agriculture as well,” said Dr. William Mitsch, the director for Florida Gulf Coast University’s Wetland Research Park.
Mitsch, and other scientists, recently presented “The Economics of Wetlaculture” at the North American Lake Management Conference in Cincinnati in early November.
The idea is to convince farmers to transform some of their acreage into wetlands, which scientists believe helps filter nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen.
The farmers would be paid for their environmental benefit by government programs.
Those nutrients, according to Mitsch, are caused by fertilizer use and when they build up in our water supply it leads to algal blooms.
Eventually, the lands that have been converted to wetlands will be so dense with nutrients they should be able to be drained and converted back into farmland.
But when they are flipped back, the idea is that there will no longer be a need for so much fertilizer.
“You don’t see any reduction in the amount of fertilizer we are adding to the land each year, that’s an opiate. We got to get off of that opiate,” he said.
Currently, the process of flipping wetlands into farmland is being studied through the use of mesocosms, artificial wetlands set up in baby pools, at an experiment site in Four Freedoms Park in Naples.
Two other similar sites have been set up in Ohio, one near Lake Erie and one near Buckeye Lake in Central Ohio.
“What we’re applying here is equally applicable at Lake Eire and down here (in Florida) and anywhere else where there is a green body of water that is being absolutely trashed by human beings, we think this will work,” said Mitsch.
He said the mesocosm experiments are relatively new, so it will be a few years before they attempt to flip them to farmland.
Until the experiments are completed they won’t really know how long a site has to remain a wetland before it can be flipped back to be used for agriculture.
For the idea to be a long-term solution to Florida’s water crisis, state and federal leaders would need to be on board.
Congressman Francis Rooney told WINK News in an email:
“This is an interesting idea that we will investigate further. It seems to be similar to what the Army Corps and SFWMD are doing now with the A-1 and new A-2 (EAA) reservoirs, as well as the limited scope “water farming” projects.The problem with addition of additional reservoir capacity is how to acquire land now that the majority of state property has been used.”
WINK News also reached out to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Elect, Nikki Fried who issued this statement:
“As I work with my transition team, we will bring experts to the table to ensure we build a Department that has a proactive approach and will consider all options available to take on on Florida’s water crisis. Innovation is key to progress—this is a long-term issue and can’t be solved in the immediate, but we must take a new approach, think bigger, and take bold action. If we’re only working to solve these problems when they have intensified to extreme levels, we will not succeed.”
A spokesperson for US Sugar said Wetlaculture is not something the company is currently involved in.
WINK News was not able to get a comment from Governor Elect Ron Desantis prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday.