Larson Dairy: Keeping farm runoff out of the Indian River Lagoon

Lagoon system filters water at Okee dairy farm

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - Jacob Larson is a third generation dairy farmer. He takes pride in the quality of his milk. He also takes pride in the way his farm "cleans up after its charges."

On the Larson Dairy farm, which began 65 years ago in Dade County and now is in Okeechobee County, is a three stage filtration process.

First, manure is washed into a lagoon where the solids can settle. That water goes through two more lagoons, then is pumped back onto the grass and hay fields.

"So we allow the nutrient to be absorbed by the grass, then we harvest it and feed it to the cows, so it's a real big recycling process if you will," said Larson.

Doing this takes time, and money.

Larson says many farms didn't want to deal with their runoff and the number of dairy farms in the Okeechobee Basin has dropped from 45 three decades ago, to 17 today.

"Farms were an easy target in the 80s, a big target, and it's weeded a lot of them out," said Larson.

It's important that all the water is cleaned before it leaves the farm.  It's first stop is Mosquito Creek and once it leaves the farm, it makes its way to Lake Okeechobee.

It is the freshwater releases from the lake that have created environmental concerns in the St. Lucie Estuary with the appearance of toxic algae. 

So if the water is cleaner when it leaves Jacob Larson's property, it should be cleaner if and when it's discharged.

"The farmers you see today are doing the best they can to be environmental stewards of the land," said Larson.

Larson Dairy has been cited as a farm that CARES.  CARES stands for "County Alliance For Responsible Environmental Stewardship."  According to the South Florida Water management District, farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area reduced phosphorous in the water flowing from their properties last year by more than 70-percent.

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