In Florida, the Governor and Cabinet have the unique ability not only to protect precious resources, but also to preserve a way of life through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The program allows farmers and ranchers to preserve active agricultural operations and their immense economic and environmental benefits through cost-effective conservation easements.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in 2001 and has acquired 28 perpetual easements totaling more than 22,000 acres. The easements protect working agricultural lands threatened by other uses, such as residential and commercial development.
The program helps preserve natural resources, protects agricultural lands, creates conservation easements that ensure sustainable agricultural practices, and prevents the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land uses in the rural base of Florida. Since 2011, the Governor and Cabinet have acquired 21 projects totaling more than 18,000 acres, a more than 500 percent increase in acres preserved.
“Partnering with Florida’s farmers and ranchers through conservation easements is the most cost-effective way to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam says. “The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program preserves more than 22,000 acres of Florida’s working agricultural lands.”
From cattle operations to silviculture, rich agricultural heritage is preserved through this program and natural resources also benefit. Not only are the natural conditions of many pieces of property preserved, but also some easements enhance water quality by preserving the headwaters of recharge areas for springs and other bodies of water. Others abut large tracts of conservation lands and state forests, creating large areas of natural habitat.
In 2016, owners of one of the last ranches of its size in Pasco County turned down multiple offers from developers and instead chose to preserve their land and way of life. The Governor and Cabinet unanimously approved the conservation of more than 600 acres of the Phillips-Mathis ranch and its active agricultural operations.
The Phillips-Mathis ranch is located in central Pasco County just west of I-75 and has been in the family for five generations, dating back to the 1860s. The property will be divided into two conservation easements.