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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Farm Bill benefits Florida’s economy, habitats, people

It appears the Farm Bill Conference Committee is struggling to reach a final agreement. I am saddened by this impasse because as a rancher who takes pride in our land stewardship I have firsthand experience with Farm Bill programs administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

These programs play a vital role in protecting and preserving our precious water resources, integrity of remaining habitat and the rapidly disappearing agricultural heritage, which feeds and clothes the masses.

Our family considers our ranch, Rafter T Ranch, a family heirloom to be preserved for future generations.

We have enrolled in two NRCS programs funded by previous farm bills, specifically the Wetlands Preserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, that gave us the ability to prevent fragmentation of our 5,178 acre ranch, prevent intensified land-use changes in the future and provide technical and financial support to implement management practices otherwise unaffordable with the typical revenues generated in the cattle business.

Under the WRP conservation easement, wetlands on our ranch were restored, enabling enhanced water storage that removes nutrients from the water before it reaches Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades, a national treasure. The easement also protects our land so that our grandchildren and their children will have a place to enjoy nature and be able to continue the ranching heritage that we and the community cherish.

Through EQIP we were provided financial and technical assistance to create additional water storage areas on my land, further addressing the issue of nutrient removal from the Everglades system.

Other programs through the farm bill, such as the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, allow ranchers and farmers to protect their agricultural way of life by purchasing conservation easements that allow for continued agricultural use but in most cases prevent future conversion to more intensive uses.

These farm bill programs not only directly benefit local communities by protecting and restoring natural resources and helping families stay on their land, but also all of the American people by protecting our food supply, our agricultural heritage and the ecosystem services provided by nature necessary for people to thrive.

Without the farm bill, families and lands throughout America will be negatively impacted.

Families that might be able to stay in agriculture if afforded the opportunity to participate in WRP or FRPP might have to succumb to economic pressure and sell their land for development. Farmers and ranchers who desire to improve their agricultural practices to enhance fish and wildlife habitat on their property through EQIP will lose the opportunity for technical and financial assistance. This has far-reaching consequences for communities and nature.

The programs within this bill have been proved to work for people and nature and foster partnerships among the government, private landowners and conservationists. For the well-being of America’s land, water and people, I hope Congress can set aside its differences and come to agreement on the farm bill.

Jimmy Wohl is the owner of Rafter T. Ranch in Sebring. He has managed the ranch since receiving a degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida in 1973. He is the first recipient of the Audubon Sustainable Rancher of the Year award.

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