conservationAs much as they inherited the desire to farm and ranch in Florida, the state’s farmers and ranchers are dedicated to land stewardship.

“My appreciation for the land started when I was little,” says Wes Carlton, a fourth-generation cattle rancher and owner of Bull Hammock Ranch in Fort Pierce. “My stewardship came from my family. It started all the way back with my great-grandfather, my grandfather and then my father.” At least once each day, Carlton bypasses his pickup truck and rides horseback to launch his grandfather’s 1956 Piper Super Cub airplane into the sky. He surveys the land, grazing cattle and fences, as well as his unique surface water management system.

The innovative approach stores water and reduces nitrogen and phosphorous released into the environment. The system restores and rehydrates wetlands, improves water quality, and allows wildlife to flourish, all within the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Area.

Carlton represents one of three longtime Florida farmers and ranchers who earned the 2015 Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The honor recognizes agricultural enterprises at the forefront of the development and adoption of innovative and environmentally sensitive farming practices.

Award winner and third-generation farmer Randall Dasher adopted new technology to improve his farm’s efficiency and conservation efforts. He implemented conservation tillage practices, crop rotations, cover crops and a process to farm row crops without irrigation. Owner of Dasher Farm in McAlpin, the self- claimed “weather watcher” maintains decades of rainfall records on his farm. This allows Dasher to make key water decisions that have saved more than 40 million gallons of water annually.

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Dasher and his family grow peanuts, seed crops and operate a seed-processing facility. They also grow hydroponic vegetables and herbs in greenhouses and use the system’s nutrient-rich solution to fertilize their crop fields.

Dennis Carlton’s selection as an Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award winner surfaced with his history of farmland reclamation, pasture improvement and creation of wildlife habitat. The seventh-generation Floridian maintains one of the largest, privately owned wetland restorations in the Tampa Bay area.

Since taking over the family’s ranch of cattle, citrus, sod and strawberries, he has provided corridors for protected wildlife and filtered storm water on the property. The farmer recycles citrus pulp into cattle feed and collects rainfall to water crops and protect them from freezing weather. He has also restored and improved wetlands and reclaimed former phosphate land into pasture and wetland marshes.

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