Discussion in Immokalee focuses on agriculture’s impact on SWFL environment

Nutrients from agriculture may have fueled the disgusting, green slime at the height of the blue-green algae crisis in Southwest Florida. That’s why researchers and farmers are talking about ways growers can make a living while protecting our water. Still, farmers and growers have to keep their livelihoods and conservation in mind.

UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research Center in Immokalee hosted it second annual “Discussion of Agricultural Issues with Legislators” Monday, where topics related to agriculture’s impact on Florida’s environment were the focus.

“We use compost, which helps keep the nutrients in the ground,” said Chuck Obern, a leafy vegetable farmer. “We’ve reduced our phosphorus applications virtually to zero.”

Dr. Kelly Morgan calls environmentally conscious farming practices vital, especially in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee.

“The best management practices are put in place to keep the nutrients on the grower field, so they don’t impact water quality,” Morgan said.

The discussion in Immokalee are another step toward consensus between experts, lawmakers and those involved in the industry.

“If we don’t talk to the people making the decisions, it’s really not doing anybody any good,” Obern said.

Growers realize the price tag if they don’t evolve.

“It comes with a huge cost, but that’s what we have to do to keep farming,” Obern said.

But there’s also pressure on researchers and lawmakers.

“And we have to try to become experts,” Florida Rep. Bob Rommel said.

It’s going to take the boots on the ground locally and across the state to protect our water and food source. Environmentally conscious farming includes storing water onsite, naturally treating the water and then releasing it better than before.

“You can’t just look at the farms out east and say, ‘It’s all them, and we had nothing to do with it,'” Florida Rep. Byron Donalds said.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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