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Consider How Farmers' 'Precision Agriculture' Has Helped the Environment

July 19, 2018 - 11:15am

When I was starting college in 1999, I began as an ag mechanization and business major. Excuse my perception of age, but back in those days, the big thing was “precision agriculture” and the big wow was people using this new deal called GPS to help guide machines on where and how much fertilizer or input to apply to a field so you didn’t over- or underdo it. 

It was so cool. Computers in tractors. We didn’t have apps or satellite radio, and this was going to change farming. 

It really did.

I don’t think people look at things from a business perspective and realize how expensive it is for a farmer or rancher to apply fertilizer. It’s really important to keep production and overhead costs lean, especially when market prices are low, and this is no different. So the notion that a farmer just gets out in a field and applies away and wastes money is foolish. It is called precision agriculture for a reason.

Now, take the homeowner who goes to Home Depot and uses the do-it-yourself method for keeping his lawn green and lush. People don’t read labels or think about how much, where and when they really need to put fertilizer on their lawns. Heck, my pet peeve is seeing sprinklers running while it’s raining. Total disregard for resources (especially during dry seasons). But it shows how little people care and how much they love their lawns. That’s why you see some local governments in urban areas passing rainy-season ordinances to help curtail lawn runoff into canals and other bodies of water.

So, my little diatribe fast-forwards 20 years, and again we are talking about precision ag. Yet, few people seem to really appreciate what it has done to help the environment and in turn help farmers keep their overhead costs low. The state has these basin management action plans for areas of critical concern that place additional oversight (and added costs on ag) to reduce nutrient use and correlated impacts to waterways and basins. It’s mandatory, and compliance is a big deal.

I wish more people had the benefit of growing up part city/part rural like I did. I was a kid in the 1980s when dairy farmers -- our friends and neighbors -- were blamed for Lake O’s problems. Some moved north. Some shut down or shifted to other types of ag. Now here we are again, talking about the lake and water quality and point sources of pollution, and the easiest thing to do is blame ag -- entirely. 

We fail to recognize what economics and government regulations have done to curtail ag’s impacts to a real problem. As a policymaker, I saw firsthand how convenient it is to stop progress on certain environmental projects and pivot to a new, expensive “savior” project. Everyone wants to be THE champion. Everyone wants to be the one who passed a bill that saved the Everglades. No one wants to be the one to take credit for finishing what someone else started and build upon that success -- or admit it didn’t work as well as thought when it doesn’t pan out.

Just my 2 cents after reading and reflecting over a lot of Facebook posts the last few days about water releases and who is to blame for everything. To suggest farmers aren’t doing their part shows a lack of understanding of the last 30 years of advancements in technology and the development of BMPs and BMAPs for the industry.

State Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, D-Plantation, has represented the 98th District, which includes parts of Davie, Plantation, and Sunrise in southern Broward County, since 2012. She is not seeking a fourth term in 2018. This oped was taken with the author's permission from a July 18 posting on her Facebook page.

Comments

Sadly, this is Happy Talk, aka propaganda, not reality. Our lakes, springs, and groundwater are full of horrible algae that comes mainly from Ag. I live in the middle of Ag, and they seem to take no care. Their algae ruins our property values, our eecreation, and commercial fishing. And btw, when I was a kid, Ag was more responsible in our area, and did not pump so much, or use so much chemicals.

Thank you, Katie, for keeping the dialogue open. The environment is a subject that doesn't get enough attention cosidering how important it is to the survival of our entire state, in my opinion. We need more attention paid to facts vs special interest of any kind. Now is the time to get to the truth about what we need to accomplish sustainable clean air and water and get the job DONE while we have the support of a President who is pushing power back to the states to help them complete projects woefully overdue.

love the new catch phrase, "precision agriculture". That's makes all of the pollution and runoff acceptable now...idiots will love it and buy it...too funny.

You are an idiot unless you live in an area with no lawn.....Maybe you have smoked most of that grass homer.

Katie, you co-sponsored a bill to allow landowners to chop down trees without restriction as to their size, age, endangerment. I know Republicans who prefer life in the Villages and artificial places like that find protecting forests laughable. I live in the United State's only tropical hardwood forests (Florida Keys) where some of us struggle to protect what is left. Your love of development is noted. I lost many of my trees in Irma and the heat is up, way up after last year. Glad you retired from the legislature. You have been a problem maker not solver and my guess is you are now going to be a lobbyist.

You poor thing. How dare a hurricane hit the Keys. What was nature thinking?

Who is stopping you from replacing the trees that a hurricane and not some politician took away from you?

Big Ag provides about $104 billion annually to Florida's gross domestic product of just over $1 trillion. Hence, agriculture (ALL agricultural products combined) represents only about 10% of Florida's economy ... but causes a much greater percentage of its water availability problems and water quality problems! The state economy really wouldn't suffer a whole lot if citrus and sugar just disappeared.

I don't believe farmers are entirely to blame, but they play the biggest role. You see, they do not have the rainy season restrictions that residential home owners have for fertilizer. Sure there are improvements, but when you continue to push out more and more product because you have to make more and more money (esp. Big Sugar and Big Citrus), it requires more and more fertilizer, and when that is occurring during the rainy season, and they are the only entity w/o those rainy season restrictions, well I don't have to tell you about the consequences of those action, you can see them for yourself, all throughout our bright green state, except the waterways are not supposed to be that color...

Did you ever think about how we have to feed more and more people?

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