Four Jackson County Farmers Recognized for Environmental Leadership

Marianna, Fla. – Four local farmers were recognized for their environmental stewardship with a County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) award on November 30.

The recipients honored were Howard Hodge, Brian Hughes, Jeff Pittman, and Todd Shelley.

Howard Hodge, of Hodge Farms, raises beef cattle and grows Bahia grass hay and seed, peanuts and sod.  The Hodge family enrolled in Best Management Practices (BMPs) in 2013 to protect the water quality on their farm. Hodge conducts soil testing to identify the level of nutrients in the soil and uses a no- till drill to minimize impacts on the land. Hodge also uses cover crops to improve soil health.  Soil moisture sensors are installed during each growing season to monitor water and nutrient uptake.

Brian Hughes owns and operate Hughes Farms and have been enrolled in BMPs since 2002. Through BMPs, Hughes is reducing water use and improving water quality on his farm. To conserve natural resources, Hughes rotates his cattle to improve soil health, conducts soil sampling and uses strip-tillage.  Throughout the growing season, drip irrigation is most efficient at providing water to the root zone of each plant.  Cover crops are used year-round to improve soil health and lock in soil moisture.

Jeff Pittman represents a fourth generation family farm that grows peanuts and cotton and raises beef cattle on property dating back to the early 1900s.  Since 1997, Jeff and his wife, Ginger, have worked to continue their family’s legacy of farming. The Pittman family believes it is their purpose to farm in a sustainable manner so that future generations can be successful on the farm.  More than ten years ago, Pittman enrolled in BMPs. These BMPs include using the Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab service to install efficiency upgrades on center pivot irrigation systems and maximize overall water use.  Cover crops and a sod-based rotation is used to increase yields on peanut and cotton crops and improve soil health and reduce pest risk.

Todd Shelley along with his father and sons, make up three generations of Shelley family members growing peanuts, cotton and a variety of vegetables and raising beef cattle in North Florida and South Alabama. Since 2011, the Shelley family has used a variety of BMPs to optimize irrigation and nutrient applications.  Plastic mulch covers on raised beds are used for a variety of watermelon, cucumbers, squash, eggplant and tomatoes grown in order to retain moisture and reduce irrigation needs.  Tissue samples are taken regularly to determine nutrient needs.  Strip tillage is used when planting cotton and peanut crops.  Variable rate fertilization has helped apply nutrients in precise amounts where needed and reduced overall nutrient use.

Florida Farm Bureau is proud to recognize Florida’s best environmental stewards, our farmers and ranchers.

The CARES program was established by Florida Farm Bureau and the Suwannee River Partnership in 2001 to recognize superior natural resource conservation by agricultural producers. The program relies on action by farmers and ranchers to implement state-of-the-art natural resource management systems or BMPs on their properties.