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Gov. DeSantis and Florida Cabinet approve conservation deals

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Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday approved spending $19 million to conserve rural land used for cattle, while also expanding a list of agricultural properties the state could help shield from residential or commercial development.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday approved spending $19 million to conserve rural land used for cattle, while also expanding a list of agricultural properties the state could help shield from residential or commercial development.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday approved spending $19 million to conserve rural land used for cattle, while also expanding a list of agricultural properties the state could help shield from residential or commercial development.

Meeting briefly by phone, DeSantis and the Cabinet approved a new ranking list of 258 farms, ranches, and forests that could be preserved through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

“That's 178 new projects just applied for this year and 80 that have rolled over from the previous cycle,” Department Rural and Family Lands Director Sue Mullins said.

Mullins and other state staff members were listening in the Capitol’s Cabinet meeting room while DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody met for about 20 minutes by phone.

Conservation easements allow farmers and ranchers to continue operations with the promise that their land won’t be developed. The state pays property owners for the easements.

DeSantis and the Cabinet approved three conservation-easement deals, with one under the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and two under the state’s Florida Forever program.

The largest deal involves the state paying $8.195 million for an easement on 2,101.5 acres of Syfrett Ranch in Highlands and Glades counties. That deal is under the Rural and Family Lands Protection program. The property is in the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the planned Florida Wildlife Corridor.

DeSantis and the Cabinet also agreed to pay $5.243 million for an easement on 1,425.5 acres of cattle-ranch land from Ferguson-House Farms, Inc. in Hendry County. Another $5.586 million was approved for an easement covering 1,531 acres of 4L’s Ranch LLC property in west-central DeSoto County.

In support of the 4L’s Ranch deal, the Florida Conservation Group said the easement would provide benefits such as preserving drinking water supplies and promoting agriculture and tourism through connections to the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

DeSantis and the Cabinet also approved the new priority list for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, topped by a 12,098-acre parcel owned by Trailhead Blue Springs LLC in Levy County.

Second is 12,000 acres owned by Anderson Land & Timber Company in Dixie County.

Third is 8,665 acres in Jefferson County owned by Pines of Avalon LLC and Avalon Plantation LLC.

The Rural and Family Lands program continues to use money held over from the 2022-2023 budget. DeSantis vetoed funding for the program in this year’s budget but has proposed spending $100 million on it during the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

Simpson is seeking $300 million for the program.

“These rural land protection easements strengthen our food security through the protection of prime agricultural land, keep the protected property on the local tax rolls, and require every property owner to maintain the land and its natural resources according to state standards,” Simpson said in a prepared statement after Tuesday’s meeting.

DeSantis has also pitched $100 million for the Florida Forever program in his 2024-2025 budget recommendations.

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