SOUTH BAY, Fla. — If you purchase organic sugar or rice anywhere in the United States, there's a good chance it was grown at the Florida Crystals sprawling farmland around South Bay, Florida.
According to the company, the farms are also home to the world's largest private network of barn owls.
"I see it every day. I see the owls at work," said farmer Daniel Cavazos, director of rice and organic farming with Florida Crystals. "We're using nature to control nature," he said.
Approximately 1,000 North American Barn Owls hunt rodents on the organic farmland so they don't devour the crops.
"They can eat," said Diego Luzuriaga, vice president of research and development with Florida Crystals. He has helped grow the barn owl program.
"Some of the little birds can eat two or three rats a night," Luzuriaga added. "They can eat double their weight. They're just amazing. Due to the program that we've been bumping up over the years, we've eliminated the use of synthetic pesticides."
Luzuriaga said his team hadn't used any chemicals for rodent control for several years across their organic and conventional farmlands of about 195,000 acres.
"It's going back to basics. We're mimicking nature. Agriculture is about trying to find the balance in our ecosystem," Luzuriaga said.
The barn owl program is a crucial factor in Florida Crystals becoming the first farm in Florida to be certified by the Regenerative Organic Alliance.
"By doing things sustainably and naturally, we can guarantee your kids and my kids can do the same thing for generations to come," Cavazos said.
Florida Crystals plan to double its barn owl network by the end of 2022.
According to the company, they are also working to replace traditional fertilizers with composted materials as another way to lessen the use of chemicals.