Forward-thinking Approach to Natural Resources and Water Management
On Friday, August 21, 2020, several class members WLI Class XI gathered with WLI Staff at Butler Oaks Farm and met with Ben Butler (Class IX member), Manager of Butler Oaks Farm and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board Member and his brother Will. The Butler family has been a respected leader in the dairy industry of South Florida for over 80 years. The company started in the mid-1930s in Broward County but due to the boom in urban development, the family relocated to Highlands County in 1965. The dairy is now 1,500 acres and is home to roughly 2,000 cows, with 1,100 in the milking herd and also have a small beef cow calf operation.
Ben spoke to us about the impact that COVID has had on the dairy industry and why there was a major shortage of milk at the beginning of quarantine. The shortage had nothing to do with farmers not being able to supply milk but rather more of distributors not being able to move the product. When schools shutdown earlier in March due to the pandemic, that also meant that the steady delivery of milk also ceased. This backup caused many farmers to resort to dumping milk to be able to continue milking the cows.
The cows need to be milked regularly to stay healthy and so they don’t stop producing milk. The farm is able to fill up a 6,000 gallon tanker every day to send off for processing. Ben mentioned that the family has only been delayed five times in milking cows – even during hurricanes the cows need to be milked. The cows get so accustomed to their routine that the whole process becomes second nature to them.
The farm has participated in major environmental projects to combat the phosphorus and other nutrients on their farm. The farm’s water management practice collects to treat or reuse the surface water runoff.
Our next stop was just a few miles west of Butler Oaks Farm at Lykes Bros. Inc.’s Brighton Valley Project pump station.
Mr. Noah Handley, WLI Class IX member and Director of Engineering for Lykes Bros. Inc., spent a few hours with several of WLI class members and staff to tell the group about company’s recently completed stormwater storage and treatment project along other Lykes Bros. Inc operations. Lykes Bros. Inc. began with only 500 acres has now grown to over 600,000 acres in two states. Roughly 330,000 acres are in Florida and spread across Glades and Highlands counties, touching the Kissimmee River, the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee. The company is a diverse enterprise including cattle, citrus, farming, forestry, hunting, and land/water resource management.
The Brighton Valley property is an 8,200-acre stormwater storage and treatment area with a number of benefits for water flowing into Lake Okeechobee. The construction of this project began in the Fall of 2018 and became fully functioning at the end of this pass April. Water will be pumped onto the property from the C-41A canal, flow over the property, and be released by gravity flow to the C-40 canal. The project is anticipated to eliminate an average of 3.2 metric tons of phosphorus and 27.3 metric tons of nitrogen from the water annually.
This is only one of three public-private partnership projects between Lykes Bros. Inc and SFWMD the company has on their property. The other two include West Waterhole (2,500 acres) and Nicodemus Slough Project (15,900 acres). All three are working to benefit the water that is either following into or out of Lake Okeechobee.
After lunch that was generously provided by Mr. Joe Collins and Lykes Bros. Inc., the class members, Christy and Kevin reflected and discussed the impact of the pandemic on business and what does it mean for the future.