Consistent with the premise of the St. Lucie County Western Lands Study – Options and Opportunities for the Future, the best way to sustain agriculture and rural lands is profitable agriculture. This should be coupled with strategies to keep that land available for farming and discourage nearby incompatible development. Because each agricultural operation is different, a variety of tools that can be used in different combinations are required to create the revenues needed.
Two strategies to sustain agriculture relate to water. One is to en- courage the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). In the northern part of the region, that includes projects to store water, thus helping hydrate resources and reduce the amount of freshwater going into the Indian River during high rain events.
A related strategy is to promote what is often referred to as water farming or dispersed water storage. This approach is already in use by the SFWMD in its pilot dispersed water storage initiative to help restore and protect the Everglades by encouraging property owners to retain water on their land and reduce dis- charges to coastal estuaries.
Related to citrus, a key third strategy is for the region to sup- port disease research to find solutions to greening that, if not resolved, could imperil the future of the region’s citrus industry.
Three additional strategies for retaining a healthy agriculture economy and land available for farming are to:
Promote the Incorporation of a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) Program in Regional and Local Plans
An agricultural landowner could receive an economic value for providing environmental services that benefit the public. In a PES program, the buyers may be public agencies or private entities that must satisfy a policy or regulatory requirement (e.g., to mitigate habitat or wetland impacts or meet water quality and supply needs, such as the SFWMD’s dispersed water storage). The seller, the landowner, incorporates the provision of those services into his or her business and land management plans and conservation practices. The result is a win-win for the environment, the public, and the landowner through additional revenue sources.
Make Agriculture a Core Part of County and Regional Economic Development Programs
This should include giving agriculture the same priority as other business sectors when designing financial and regulatory incentives and services (e.g., reduced fees and taxes and access to capital).
Other services could include local or regional programs that help link those wanting to get into farming with those who already are and to increase the demand for locally produced food through programs such as Farm-to-School and Farm-to-Table programs and Community Supported Agriculture.
Expanding agriculture’s opportunities to produce renewable energy sources is another strategy. When designing such incentives and services, agriculture needs to be at the table. One way of ensuring that is through an agricultural coordinator. Such a person serves as a liaison with the agricultural community and works with that community to develop and put in place the strategies to help sustain and remove impediments to a healthy agricultural sector. This could include help with many of the services including marketing, business planning, removing regulatory impediments, etc.
Keep Land Available for Farming
Other tools could include agricultural zoning, purchase and transfer of development rights programs, and, where a portion of land is developed, clustering development based on conservation design principles. In this approach, the development is concentrated in a much smaller footprint than allowed by traditional large-lot zoning (typically one unit per five or ten acres) that chops up the landscape. By using smaller lots to accommodate development on less space and located in areas of lower natural resource value, a larger portion of agricultural lands and areas of high natural resource value could be retained, and the landowner receives economic value for the development potential of his or her land.