ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Florida farmers formed a coalition this summer to study and combat the impact of climate change on agriculture in the state.
The group also might seek new state subsidies to ensure the future of farming and open land in the nation's third-most populous state.
Establishment of the Florida Climate-Smart Agriculture Work Group represents a new level of recognition among farmers that climate change is real and is harming the industry, said Jim Strickland, co-chair of the group and a cattle rancher near Sarasota.
"We need options in Florida. If we're going to survive, we need to stay profitable," Strickland said.
The fledgling group received a $20,000 grant from the Turner Foundation, which was founded by TV magnate Ted Turner, to create a plan for the state's farmers to deal with climate change. Its first step is to make a statewide assessment of opportunities and vulnerabilities farmers are facing.
The group is tapping into a Maryland-based nonprofit, Solutions from the Land, which has helped farmers from Missouri to North Carolina deal with more frequent floods, storms, drought and fires. It also will receive help from the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Eventually, the group plans to seek a method to pay farmers to keep land for agriculture farming rather than selling it to developers in the state, which has been growing at a rate of about 900 people per day in recent years.
Similar programs in Missouri have helped farmers deal with drought and flooding by focusing on soil quality. Another effort in North Carolina is helping farmers deal with the impact of hurricanes, including the loss of pecan trees.
"The world is waking up to the idea that farmers provide more than food, fiber and fuel," said Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land. "We need new ways to reward producers not just for growing crops, but for the whole range of benefits farms provide."
As the farmers see it, their forests and open land provide ecological services beyond just food production. Trees help to capture carbon -- a major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Open land also allows rainwater to soak in and recharge groundwater aquifers that feed many public water supplies.
The Climate-Smart group believes farmers or any landowner could receive payment or tax cuts for such benefits. Nothing like that exists in the United States, the group acknowledges.
Strickland's co-chair is Lynetta Usher Griner, a forester, farmer and rancher in Chiefland, Fla., about 120 miles north of Tampa. She said many farms are struggling.
"Our farm has had extreme rainfall and flooding that made it impossible to harvest," Usher Griner said. "It's hard to get up every day and stay in this business."