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As Florida grows, a report reveals the state’s farmland is at risk

Image of three cattle on ranchland.
Flickr Creative Commons
The report's 2070 Sprawl Scenario predicts Florida could lose more than 2.2 million acres of agricultural land to development, including more than 1 million acres of grazing land.

A new report from the University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning and 1000 Friends of Florida reveals the state could lose about 2.2 million acres, or nearly 19% of its current agricultural land, by the year 2070, “if Florida continues with its existing pattern of sprawling development.”

That estimate comes from the report’s most aggressive projection, the 2070 Sprawl Scenario, which assumes Florida’s current development patterns will continue amid “unrelenting population growth and sea level rise.”

A more optimistic forecast, the 2070 Conservation Scenario, predicts Florida could salvage nearly 850,000 acres of agricultural land, if future development can be more compact and avoid overtaking priority natural land.

The GIS-based analysis (Geographic Information System) builds on the groups’ previous study, Sea Level 2040/2070, by including more comprehensive agriculture data.

The new report, Agriculture 2040/2070, helps illustrate how agricultural and conservation land connect. For example, farmland accounts for about a third of lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, according to the report.

Image of a map of Florida, showing where the most agricultural land is at risk, according to a new report's "2070 Sprawl Scenario."
This map of Florida shows which agricultural lands are projected to face the most risk under the report's "2070 Sprawl Scenario."

Most of Florida’s agricultural lands also provide some kind of conservation benefit, the report finds: from flood control and carbon sequestration, to helping reduce runoff that can harm water quality.

New technology advancements can also help farmers work more sustainably, according to Jim Strickland, a sixth-generation cattle rancher and vice chair of Florida Conservation Group.

On his own Manatee County ranch, Strickland says he’s using new “invisible fence” technology to rotate his cattle more easily and restrict grazing in certain areas, instead of investing the capital it would require to build physical fences.

“Being able to check my cows, but at the same time, identify those wetlands: certain times of year, we do not want cattle in there,” Strickland explained. “At the stroke of a mouse, I can put a fence up. At the stroke of a mouse, I can take that fence down and change it to another wetland.”

Although he’s not anti-development, Strickland says “there has to be a balance” between Florida’s precious natural resources and the state’s explosive growth rate.

“If you believe in sea level rise and climate change, you need to believe in conservation of these agricultural lands,” Strickland said.

Molly is an award-winning reporter with a background in video production and investigative journalism, focused on covering environmental issues for WMFE and WMFV.

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