Finding Common Ground
On Friday, June 26, 2020, six class members of WLI Class XI gathered with WLI Staff (including Anne Parrish, the new Leadership Programs Coordinator) and guest speakers for Maximize Session I at Royal Springs in O’Brien, FL. It was absolutely wonderful to come together to challenge our minds after so many months of social distancing. Due to recent rain events, Royal Springs was full of tannic water from the Suwannee River. Maximize Session I was focused on water quality and quantity. Mr. Kevin Wright, WLI Class X, Vice President of Lands, SE Oak River Farms worked hard to bring us speakers with diverse perspectives.
Mrs. Merillee Jipson of Our Santa Fe River, Inc. and owner of Rum 138 was our first speaker of the day. “Our Santa Fe River, Inc. is a non-profit corporation giving the Santa Fe River a voice” according to Mrs. Jipson. She has a background in Arts, not environmental science as one might think. She is a self proclaimed passionate environmentalist who has helped stop 4 bottling operations, ran a red tides campaign, and shares concern of nutrient loads into waterways. She reported that the local towns of Ft. White and Branford are working towards connecting to central sewers to reduce nutrient loads from septic systems. She briefly mentioned the Valdosta Waste Water Plant spills affecting north FL waterways. Merillee seems like a tireless activist who has reached the masses in north central FL regarding many water issues in the area. She emphasized that each one of us has the ability to create change by showing up, knowing who to talk, and building a relationship with the aids of representatives prior to requesting meetings. Mrs. Jipson also emphasized the need to understand the language of the bills, who the players are, and understanding the other side and how they may be impacted by change before trying to create that change.
The next stop was Suwannee Farms. Mr. Wright started off telling us about crop rotations to rebuild soils, such as peanuts, corn, then carrots or potatoes. We learned that the highest grade of peanut is purchased by candy makers such as Mars, Inc., the second grade is used for peanut butter, and the lower grade is used for oil. Mr. John Ward and Mr. Kelby Sanchez of SanRiver Farms, LLC joined us to further discuss production. They told us that 60% germination of peanuts planted is a good stand today. That means that 40% of the seed that they plant does not produce a harvest. Irrigation is essential to their production. They regulate water usage daily based on data from soil probes. They have a base station/computer control to monitor break downs and avoid wasting water or fertilizer. This data is shared with regulating agencies. The group moved from the field to the packing facility where we saw washed potatoes being sorted prior to going into 50 lb. bags. The unwashed potatoes were going into large totes, then loaded on trucks, to be washed at another packing facility where they would be sorted into smaller bags. The staff and equipment for the potato packing is leased to SanFarms, LLC for the season.
Besides inviting an advocator, growers, and farmers to speak to us about water issues, Mr. Kevin Wright provided an excellent barbeque lunch.
After lunch, Mr. Dave Temple owner of Southern Cross Dairy which is a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) spoke about a pilot project to reduce nitrates from the land that he operates on, which had a consent order prior to the start of Southern Cross Dairy. After careful evaluation of the situation, the determined resolution was to install several shallow wells is spray field to capture the nutrients and sent them into the production facility. While human drinking water is allow nitrates up to 10 ppm, livestock drinking water is allow 20-30 ppm. This system has proven to be effective at this CAFO, meeting the goals of the consent order from DEP within the 5 year allotment.
Mr. Kevin Wright spoke to us briefly about Ag Investing. He explained that many of the funds come from Life Insurance investors because it is safe bet on a return typically around 4-5%. This is often in Forestry Lands in FL. I would like to hear more from Juan David about this topic.
Our final speaker of the day was Mr. Tom Mirti, Deputy Executive Director Suwannee River Water Management District. SRWMD is the 5th largest in the state, which has 450 documented springs, but it is estimated to have 500 or more. Twenty-one of those are 1st magnitude springs, meaning they discharge at least 100 cubic feet of water per second (cfs), or about 64.6 million gallons per day (mgd). Part of the Cody Scarp is located in this WMD, which is a geomorphologic feature 100 ft. drop in elevation that extends from Orlando, FL to just north of Tifton, GA. 54% of the water usage in SRWMD is agriculture with 60% of the being animal usage. 20 year projections for water usage in SRWMD is 60% agriculture, which means the area is not expected to have a great deal of residential development. The water quality initiatives that SRWMD is working on are:
- New nutrient reducing technologies.
- Septic to sewer conversions or septic upgrades.
- Pilot new project concepts.
- Improve the water quality monitoring network.
The day ended with my favorite part of Wedgworth Sessions, reflection. There was discussion about the need to develop relationships with people that may initially be difficult to talk with due to opposing views to be able to see one another as people first and develop respect for one another. After that begin discussions with areas where there is common ground for example all parties from Maximize Session I expressed the desire to use resources wisely. Follow with areas of opposition backed by data. Stop discussions if either party begins to shut down/stop listening. Christy informed us that shut down happens due to loss of mutual purpose or mutual respect. It is necessary to determine which one is the issue in order to fix the condition of a conversation before continuing with content.
I look forward to interacting with all of you in upcoming WLI Class XI learning opportunities.