Florida Potato Farmer Reaps the Benefits of Soil Health
On the southwest coast of Florida, in Manatee County, sits the 4,000-acre Jones Potato Farm.
Alan Jones and his father David established the farm in 1986. In just 22 years, the farm has grown to 10 times its original size with 2,800 acres of potato crops.
In 2002, Alan bought out his father and now runs Jones Potato Farm with his wife, Leslie. In recent years, Alan has become an industry leader and recognized on a global scale for his innovative conservation practices.
The use of conservation farming methods like precision farming, variable application methods and the center-pivot irrigation system have proven to be a win for conservation both on and off the farm. These methods have led to a 30 percent reduction in fertilizer use and a 60 percent reduction in water use.
“First and foremost, Alan Jones is a leader in the farming community,” said Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac. “Manatee County still has a huge part of our economy in agriculture. By being a leader, he’s demonstrating to other farmers that they can be profitable and do things to be environmentally sound. He’s a role model for other farmers.”
Rotating Crops for Soil Health
On the farm, the potatoes are planted from October through early January, and green beans are rotated in to 1,000 acres either after fall potatoes are harvested or before spring potatoes are planted.
This practice of crop rotation—when farmers grow different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons—is essential for maintaining soil health throughout the year. This allows farmers to add organic matter back into the soil and maintain nitrogen levels, which reduces soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield.
The health of the soil is critical for the farm.
By taking soil samples and mapping the results, Alan can see where the most productive soils are and where the soil might need some help. This process allows him to add compost, fertilizers and natural manures only where needed to get nutrient levels to prime growing conditions.
With the help of a specialized GPS driven fertilizer spreader, Jones Potato Farm uses fertilizer with intention and precision to improve nutrient levels in their soil. This new system is responsible for the farm’s 30 percent reduction in fertilizer use.
For several years, Alan has worked with The Nature Conservancy to adopt a 4R philosophy to nutrient stewardship, a science-based approach to place the right amount of the right fertilizer in the right place at the right time.
In 2013, Jones Potato Farm won a 4R Advocate Award, the first farm in Florida to receive this honor. In addition to the 4R Advocate Award, Jones Potato Farm was named the 2016 recipient of the Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for their outstanding commitment to protecting and preserving Florida’s resources through best management practices for irrigation, soil, food safety and fertilization.
"Jones has shown that agriculture and the environment and wildlife all work hand in hand. When you're doing it right, everything's going to thrive,” said David Royal, nutrient stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy in Florida.