I visited a Farm Bureau friend of mine last month. His pine plantation is in Marianna. Actually, his pine plantation was in Marianna.
As we stood amongst acre after acre of trees snapped like matchsticks, Mack Glass didn’t complain about the economic value those trees lost when they fell. In fact, he joked that he was lucky that he and his wife of 51 years were young enough to start over with a 25-year crop.
What Mack lamented more was that his trees were so little valued by society while they were standing. No one ever paid him for the carbon sequestration, the water filtering, the wildlife habitat, or flood control he provided with his trees.
There are conservation easements and other nascent programs to incentivize farmers not to grow houses and roads on their land. What I hear repeatedly from producers, though, is that they don’t get credit — in cash nor gratitude – for the things they provide but do not sell.
With the help of a former Mississippi Farm Bureau official and former Maryland assistant secretary of agriculture, I’ve convened a discussion on how to change that. The Florida Climate Smart Ag Working Group is a producer-led discussion about how to provide for Florida’s farming future in the face of changing conditions.
Suwannee County Farm Bureau President Randall Dasher is in the group. Longtime Manatee County board member Jim Strickland and forestry leader Lynetta Griner are, too. Scott Kirouac was there from the Highlands County Farm Bureau.
Capturing the value of ecosystem services emerged as a priority in the first two meetings. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has agriculture and natural resource economists who can help.
One of them has already started a survey to learn how widespread best management practices are. The results could inform the public, researchers, and policymakers about the services farmers provide.
In fact, Dr. Tara Wade of the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, states, “Your responses are crucial to understanding the burden placed on growers and to begin a conversation about who is really benefitting from BMPs and who should be paying for them.”
With your observations added to Mack’s, and with Tara’s data, we’ll get a more clear picture of what Farm Bureau members deliver beyond food, fuel, and fiber. At some point, we may even agree what it’s worth.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.