Farmers plant unexpected crop in Manatee County

- “We grow all kinds of potatoes; yellows, whites, reds, chip potatoes and purple potatoes. We just try to keep a happy soil,  because you know happy soil is a happy plant, said Alan Jones owner of Jones Potato Farm.

Watering is down to a science at Jones Potato Farm in Parrish. 2800 acres of potatoes flourish with their hybrid irrigation system. In a short four months they are harvested  and ready for sale.

“I started with the mentality what can I do. How can I grow my crop with the least amount of water possible and having the smallest carbon footprint possible, “ explained Jones.

Center pivots water the crops from above. There are 16 on the farm.

“it's job is to make it rain. It's job is to literally walk across the entire field and apply the amount of water that we need.  We're also irrigating through our seepage irrigation ditches, “ said Farm Manager David Fleming.

Yearly extensive soil mapping shows dry areas. GPS technology points out spots that need more fertilizer too.

“In a drier part of the field I can program the irrigation system to slow down and water more liberally,” said Fleming.

“We put our first pivot in ourselves and saw 70% water savings that first year, “ said Jones.

Now in its sixth year of operation the system saves an incredible one million gallons of water a day.

“We're contributing to everybody around us, not just this farm, “ Jones said.

“ It’s a prize to be able to see all this come together,” said Fleming.

They’re showing others in the industry how to save too, with help from the University of Florida IFAS and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

“A lot of the data now is going to other famers. We're able to help them and show them what we're actually doing,” explained Fleming.

More efficient watering helps them cut back on fertilizer. The farm now uses 30 percent less.

“The whole process of how we're able to do things in a more efficient matter has made us better operators and have a more consistent crop,” said Jones.

Jones Potato Farm has won multiple awards for their environmentally friendly operation.
Just last year they were honored with the 2016 Commissioner of Agriculture’s AG Environmental Leadership Award.

“For people to recognize what you're doing and see the validity of it, is more than I can ever imagine. We’re going to have a lot of great things coming to us in the future.”
 

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