Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper reports from the CARES dinner at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research Center in Live Oak. Enjoy:
Last night under stormy skies I enjoyed the company of hundreds of North Florida farmers and others at the CARES celebration of the Suwannee River Partnership at the IFAS Center near Live Oak. The Suwannee River Partnership was put together by the Suwannee River Water Management District to help agricultural landowners protect water resources.
The program has been a major success, with many farmers voluntarily reducing nutrients and improving water quality. CARES, which stands for County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship is a joint project of the Florida Farm Bureau and the Suwannee River Partnership. Last night CARES recognized many of the farmers who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to protect the environment.
I enjoyed talking to some old and new friends. Rod Land, a fifth generation farmer from Lafayette County, told me that people and especially environmentalists do not understand or recognize the importance of agriculture. He said we need to work together better so that his son, who has joined him in the business can prosper. We agreed that private landowners provide important habitat. Rod told me that Bobwhite Quail were until recently plentiful on his farm.
I also enjoyed seeing my old friends John Finlayson from Jefferson County who used to sit on the Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board along with Auley Rowell. Auley was chair for years and championed much of the rules and programs that are used to help successfully protect wetlands and springs in the Suwannee watershed. We talked about how disappointed we are with Governor Scott’s attack on Florida’s water management districts, which Auley believes are the best in the nation.
Loy Barnard, a leader of the Four Rivers Audubon Society, helped get me invited to the CARES event. It is exciting to know that our local conservation leaders are tied into efforts to work with farmers to protect the Suwannee.
Florida’s elected leaders were out in force. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam spoke and said that water is the biggest problem facing Florida’s farmers. I also got a chance to say hello to Representatives Elizabeth Porter and Leonard Bembry along with Senator Steve Oelrich.