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Ryan McCulley, of Circle M Farms in Hamilton County, was honored for his environmental stewardship with a County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship award.

LIVE OAK — Ryan McCulley, of Circle M Farms in Hamilton County, was honored for his environmental stewardship with a County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship award May 2 at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center - Suwannee Valley during the 19th annual Suwannee CARES Celebration.

A fourth generation farmer, McCulley grows corn and raises beef cattle at his family’s operation in Jennings. The farm began in the 1950s and he has worked to implement best management practices to ensure it can continue to be passed down to his children one day.

McCulley has received cost-share funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to implement strip-tillage across his property to improve soil health and moisture retention. Water conservation is accomplished through the use of cover crops grown between growing seasons and the use of center pivot irrigation.

Plans to implement soil moisture sensors will also result in water use reductions. Additional BMPs, such as fencing off wetlands on his land, helps preserve and restore the natural waterways and resources for years to come. McCulley believes that you must take care of the land each and every day to preserve its use for the future.

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

“Florida’s farmers and ranchers answer the call to protect our environment while also producing our food supply,” Florida Farm Bureau CARES Coordinator Cacee Hilliard said in a release. “Demonstrating outstanding efforts to implement practices that reduce water and nutrient use and also improve water quality is the basis for a producer being awarded a This Farm CARES designation and sign. The customized CARES sign is a farmer/rancher’s tool to demonstrate to the general public that they are committed to protecting local natural resources.”

Nearly 800 agriculturalists statewide have received the CARES award since the program was established.

CARES has become a model for the rest of the nation. It has partnered with more than 60 public agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida’s water management districts, agricultural organizations, businesses and local governments.

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