The Florida Producer Panel — from left: Gary Wishnatzki, Randall Dasher, Sandy Stein, and Kirk Brock — was selected because of the farmers' geographic locations. (Sofia Mingote/WUFT News)
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UF Panel Delves Into The Future Of Florida’s Farmlands Amid Climate Change

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Extreme weather patterns and changes in climate are heavily affecting Florida’s agriculture and forestry.

The “Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: What the Future Holds for Florida” forum was organized by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. Farmers, landowners, and ranchers from all over the country came together on Monday afternoon for two-and-a-half hours at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center to discuss the climate challenges and highlight solutions.

In attendance was U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who is chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Prior to the forum, Castor had toured cattle and timber operations in Levy County, and then listened to the farmers’ daily challenges.

Jim Strickland, the co-chair of the Florida Climate-Smart Agriculture Work Group, said farmers should advocate for needed changes in land-use practices, research, education and money.

“We have to recognize that Florida is a special state and the dynamics of Florida are special,” Strickland said. “Whether it’s conservation easements or government programs… (those) help the agriculturalists in this state to stay profitable and stay sustainable.”

The first panel gave a knowledge-based perspective, as notable scientists such as Carolyn Mutter and Senthold Asseng spoke about undernourishment and greenhouse gas emission trends.

Wendy-Lin Bartels, research assistant scientist for UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said the innovative methods that farmers are utilizing will help counter the daily issues that they face.

Some of the methods mentioned were robotic systems, covering crops to manage soil erosion, and harvesting at night.

“One of the ways that we can get them on board is to recognize everything that they do to keep rural lands functioning and to keep us fed,” Bartels said. “Part of the first step is to tell the stories of success.”

The impacts of climate change are seen because of a reduction in food security, which includes declining yields, increased prices and reduced nutrient levels.

On a micro level, Florida’s farmers are constantly adapting to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather patterns, but the forum’s hope was to galvanize all farmers for a coordinated response to imminent challenges.

“We do believe in science,” Strickland said. “Let’s have some preventative maintenance, let’s do that research, let’s see what’s coming down the road.”

About Sofia Mingote

Sofia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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