Dr. Cheryl Mackowiak
North Florida is part of the U.S. Southern Coastal Plain and Atlantic Plain, where the land gently slopes into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, forming our continental shelf (Fig. 1). This region is host to over a quarter million farms. The Southern Coastal Plain region was originally comprised of pine savannahs/ woodlands, and wetlands and is noted for its exceptionally high degree of flora and fauna diversity.
Agricultural land clearing increased as the South entered the early 1800s. More than 90% of some southern states went under the plow, mostly for cotton production. The rise of pests, most notably the boll weevil, and the exhaustion of soils from poor management practices resulted in large-scale land abandonment and old-field succession into mostly dense, hardwood forests and pine plantations.
Farming in the U.S. has continued to decline and the average farmer is older now than in any previous time, with only 5% being 35 or younger. It is even worse in the southern and western U.S. Is it possible for a country to remain self-sufficient if almost no one farms? Our national security and quality of life depends on keeping U.S. agriculture and the family farm viable. The average Florida farm is small, at about 200 acres, with the majority at 50 acres or less. These family farms benefit all of us. Besides growing food and fiber, they often conserve green-space. For example, over 50% of Florida farmland is maintained as pasture or woodland. Family farms contribute to the local economy and these folks hold vested interest in the well-being of the local community that they serve.
The North Florida Research and Education Center is committed to supporting agriculture and good land stewardship in Florida and the surrounding region. My research and extension emphasizes the soil and water that sustain the flora and fauna that sustain your agroecological interests and livelihoods.