Jones Potato Farm
Innovative soil-management and water-conservation techniques at family-owned Jones Potato Farm have earned it the 2016 Ag-Environmental Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Owners Alan and Leslie Jones accepted the prestigious award from Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam at the 75th Florida Farm Bureau Convention in Orlando.
“This is a humbling experience, to have the commissioner of the State of Florida recognize our farm,” said Leslie Jones. Alan Jones and his family have been farming in northern Manatee and Hendry counties since 1986. Since then, Jones Potato Farm (JPF) has grown to more than 4,000 acres and is a full-scale agriculture operation growing Florida favorites including green beans, citrus, and potatoes while also raising cattle.
Water and fertilizer conservation top the list for any healthy farm. The JPF team uses a unique soil and management plan with precision agriculture software.
“In the fields they break it down and figure out what the soil contains and how much of the fertilizer they need and when,” says Alan Jones. By examining soil samples they are able decrease the farm’s fertilizer use by 30%. “Farming is so high-tech now. There are GPS systems on the tractors so they know when they go over that land when to drop it and how much,” says Leslie Jones. Alan also introduced his 4R Nutritional Stewardship Program concentrating on delivering proper fertilizer at the right rate, right time, and right place. JPF also swapped diesel for electric, further reducing negative environmental impact.
Water conservation has been one of the greatest accomplishments for the farm. By using a center pivot irrigation system and low-volume sprinkler heads they are able to apply accurate distribution of water to crops. This, along with water level monitoring, enables Alan and his team to assess saturation without overwatering. It also reduces irrigation runoff, erosion, and potential pollution. Since implementing the system, JPF has reduced water usage by 70% overall—that’s about 1 million gallons a day!
The citrus side works a little bit differently, but is just as efficient. In 2014, when the Jones family purchased Caloosa Grove, they realized the impact their farm (which sits on the Caloosahatchee River) can have on the watershed system. Alan created a tail water retention pond that helps to avoid disruption of the river while decreasing groundwater withdrawals by up to 40%.
Working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and partnering with Manatee County, JPF works to share their techniques with other farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture practices while providing optimal production.
“There is a lot of agriculture in Florida and Alan would love to be able to consult with other farmers,” says Leslie. Also active with the Farm to School Program of Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Alan and Leslie go into the classroom to teach sustainability. And they encourage field trips to the farm for a better understanding of today’s farming practices. Manatee County has even given Alan his own day: Alan Jones Day is observed on December 14.