– At Florida Pacific Farms in Dover, the buzz is all about sustainability. The farm, which grows strawberries and blueberries for Driscoll’s, has been on the forefront of Florida agriculture’s conservation efforts.
Production Manager Bradley Ferguson has been with the operation for three years. That’s when Florida Pacific began recycling the huge sheets of plastic that cover the strawberry beds. Planting and growing strawberries with plastic mulch helps conserve water, reduce the use of herbicides for weed control, and keep the growing berries clean.
“The standard practice in the industry had been to pile it up and burn it in the fields once it’s removed from the beds,” Ferguson said. “We decided to take a different approach. We’ve been working with several recycling companies that have the technology to basically break the plastic back down into fuel. We just bale it up, and the recycler picks it up and takes it off our hands.”
Florida Pacific Farms was the first of Driscoll’s Florida growers to recycle its plastic mulch. Driscoll’s now requires all Florida growers to do so.
Sustainable practices go back much further than three years at Florida Pacific Farms. The operation’s founders, John and Kim Stickles, began planting cover crops during the summer many years ago. Cover crops help suppress weeds and nematodes and replenish the soil with organic biomass, improving its quality. It also helps prevent erosion in the summer rainy season and captures residual fertilizer.
“They were doing that long before I was here,” said Ferguson. “We primarily use sunn hemp. It’s probably one of the most popular cover crops. It generates a lot of biomass, so a lot of organic matter gets put back into the ground. The main thing is that it helps suppress the weeds and nematodes and puts the organic biomass back into the soil.”
Florida Pacific Farms also was an early user of frost blankets, an alternative to using overhead irrigation to prevent damage from freezes.
The operation also practices sustainable agriculture by following the “4R Nutrient Stewardship” philosophy, a science-based approach that offers enhanced environmental protection, increased production, increased farmer profitability, and improved sustainability. “The 4Rs mean that you use the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement. It’s promoted by the Nature Conservancy,” Ferguson said. “It’s basically the Best Management Practices of fertilization. That’s something that’s part of the strawberry BMPs, and it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. It’s pretty much the industry standard as far as using the drip tape under the plastic, which lets us use small quantities of fertilizer basically throughout the season,” he said. The guidelines for the 4R principles are endorsed and supported by the International Plant Nutrition Institute, The Fertilizer Institute, The Canadian Fertilizer Institute, and the International Fertilizer Industry Association. Learn more about the 4Rs here.
Summing up the operation’s attitude toward sustainability, Ferguson keeps it simple: “We are just trying to do what’s best for the environment based on the science and technology that’s available to us.”