Birds fly over the everglades as the sun is setting.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spent $1.6 million through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program to purchase a conservation easement that will shield from development 237 acres in Okeechobee County, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said Jan. 5.
The deal for what is known as the Curren Dairy property was the first under a 2023 law that allows the department to acquire conservation easements under $5 million without approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet.
Conservation easements allow landowners to continue using property for agriculture while agreeing not to develop the land. The Curren Dairy deal is the 71st easement through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.
“The Curren Dairy property has been in agriculture for over 50 years, and with its recent approval into our program, we will ensure that it can stay in agriculture for 50 more,” Simpson said in a prepared statement.
The department has a list of nearly 260 farms, ranches and forests whose owners are interested in easement purchases. The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program continues to use money held over from the 2022-23 state budget.
DeSantis vetoed funding for the program in the 2023-24 budget but has proposed spending $100 million on it during the 2024-25 fiscal year. Simpson is seeking $300 million for the program.
Lawmakers will negotiate a 2024-25 budget during the legislative session.