Florida reaches rural land deals to protect agricultural lands in Polk and Putnam Counties

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©2024 The News Service of Florida

Owners of three farms have signed deals with the state, totaling nearly $9 million, to restrict future residential and commercial development, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson announced Monday.

The deals involve the state purchasing conservation easements, which allow landowners to continue using their land for such things as farming while agreeing not to develop the property.

The purchases, made through the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, are for easements on the 707-acre K-Rocker Ranch in Polk County, at a cost of $3.2 million; the 998-acre Los Niños Farm in Putnam County, at a cost of $1.798 million; and the 525-acre Kuder Ranch in Polk County, at a cost of $3.9 million.

“With the preservation of these three ranches and their over 2,200 acres of productive agricultural land, in addition to the more than 36,000 acres we’ve permanently preserved in the last year, we are working to protect Florida’s valuable agricultural lands as efficiently and effectively as possible – and before it’s too late,” Simpson said in a prepared statement.

A 2023 law allows the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to acquire conservation easements under $5 million without having to get approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet.

The deals announced Monday followed similar agreements in late January involving a 550-acre dairy operation in Gilchrist County, a 245-acre timber farm in Baker County and a 1,600-acre cattle ranch in Highlands County that had a combined cost of just over $7.3 million.

In December, the department published a list of nearly 260 farms, ranches and forests whose owners are seeking to be considered for easement purchases.

But funding for the program will be an issue as lawmakers negotiate a new budget in the coming weeks.

A fiscal year 2024-2025 budget proposed by the Senate includes $300 million for easements and agreements, while a House proposal is at $33 million.

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