Know the Facts

How does horse power drive Florida’s economy?
  • Florida is the third biggest equine state by number of horses with 35 percent of the state’s horse population located in Marion County.
  • Ocala/Marion County has more horses and ponies than any other county in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census. [1]
  • More than 900 farms with every breed are located in Ocala/Marion County.[2]
  • Horse breeders, owners and trainers are drawn to Florida’s year-round moderate climate and mineral-rich water and soil.[3]
  • Equine operations preserve land and green space. In Marion County, more than 195,000 acres of its 377,000 acres are used for horse-related purposes.[4]
  • In Florida, the horse industry:
    • Generates $6.5 billion economic impact on gross domestic product, when including spending by industry suppliers and employees.
    • Produces goods and services valued at $2.2 billion.
    • Has more than 244,000 Floridians involved as horse owners, service providers and employees.[5]
  • In Marion County, the equine industry:
    • Has a $2.62 billion annual economic impact on Ocala, Fla.
    • Generates $1.6 billion in value-added contribution to the gross domestic product.
    • Creates 19,209 full- and part-time jobs.[6]
What is the Coastal Connector and why is the turnpike so bad for Northwest Marion County?

In April 2018, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) released plans for the Coastal Connector with projected routes in Marion and Citrus Counties to help with Florida’s growing transportation needs.

To connect the phase two extension of the Suncoast Parkway at Crystal River to Interstate 75 and U.S. 301, FDOT officials proposed various turnpike routes, including five alternative routes that run through “green space” in Marion County.  However, this “green space” is land that is home to some of the most productive horse farming in the country.

On June 29, 2018, the FDOT Secretary sent a letter to the Mayor of Ocala recognizing the concerns over the impact of the proposed routes saying, “The Department appreciates the rich history of the Marion County equine industry and the important economic engine it provides to the region.  Their concerns will continue to be paramount in our long-range planning.”  The letter went on to say, “At this time, the Department will postpone the recommendations from Coastal Connector planning study and increase our resolve to implement the I-75 task force recommendations aimed to provide relief to existing traffic on I-75 and to enhance the interregional connectivity between West Central and Northeast Florida.”

The reality is this decision has simply been pushed to a later date.  This delay doesn’t change the inevitable.  Therefore, we are committed to continuing to spread the message that the proposed routes through the heart of horse country in Marion County are bad for our state and nation’s equine industry.  Just think of how important the coral reefs are to the make-up of the Florida Keys.  The land in Marion County is just as irreplaceable and precious for horse farms in the North Central Florida region.

The equine industry was developed in Marion County more than 80 years ago because of the unique characteristics of the year-round moderate climate, the mineral-rich soil and water specific to the region.  As detailed in the Resolution of the Board of County Commissioners of Marion County, Marion County has unique limestone-based soil that is classified as locally important and prime farmland, providing key natural agronomic benefits to the equine industry.  Further, Marion County has unique karst geology proving high recharge to the Floridan Aquifer, the key source of freshwater for Central Florida and numerous springs, including Marion County’s world-class Rainbow Springs and Silver Springs, both first magnitude springs, along with providing a nutrient-laden freshwater source.

Today, Ocala/Marion County has more horses and ponies than any other county in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census.  In Marion County, the equine industry has a $2.62 billion annual economic impact and creates 19,209 full- and part-time jobs.[1]

Additionally, Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan detailed in the County’s Resolution addresses its invaluable “green space” through the established Farmland Preservation Area and Transfer of Development Rights Program, which serves to preserve and enhance the nature, character, and economic impact of the equine and agricultural industries of Marion County.

What is Horse Farms Forever and does the group oppose the Coastal Connector?
A group of Marion County locals has formed Horse Farms Forever, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation registered with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is currently seeking to be registered as a 501(c)3 with the IRS.

The catalyst for the creation of Horse Farms Forever was the decision in April 2018 by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to propose building the Coastal Connector turnpike with routes right through the heart of Marion County’s prized horse country.

After massive public outcry over the potential destruction of the hundreds of horse farms that provide the cultural fabric of Marion County, the FDOT “postponed” this project.  Now that the immediate threat of the Coastal Connector has been postponed, the ongoing goal for Horse Farms Forever is to continue our mission of awareness and education to protect the horse farms in Marion County from further government overreach.

The mission of Horse Farms Forever is to conserve horse farms by:

– Preserving the natural pasture land for horses and their habitats

– Protecting the soil and water on which they depend

– Minimizing land use conflicts in Marion County

Should FDOT address this project again in the future, Horse Farms Forever strongly urges FDOT to consider an alternate route for our state’s transportation needs.  We believe the method used to select the proposed routes through the heart of horse country in Marion County, solely using aerial maps to find high and dry green spaces, was flawed.

For comparison, if Amazon would have located its new headquarters campus in Marion County, the same proposed routes FDOT suggested for the Coastal Connector would have run right through the middle of it.  The difference is that on an aerial map, the tens of thousands of acres of green pasture required by the horse industry do not look like a technology campus.  Yet, the economic impact of the horse industry in Marion County is greater than if a major technology headquarters was located here.

Horse Farms Forever recognizes Florida’s population is growing, and with that growth the state’s transportation system will also need to grow.  We simply believe a route should be chosen outside the heart of Marion County’s horse country that does not hurt Florida’s equine industry, which brings in billions of dollars to our state and local economies and employs thousands of Floridians annually.

“While this proposal may help alleviate congestion, the route would have a devastating impact on Florida’s $120 billion agriculture industry and Marion County’s local economy.  Ocala is the Horse Capital of the World™, and the equine industry is a vital part of our state’s economy.  It is imperative we find another path.” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam wrote in a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.

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