Regional differences in nutrient and water quality management guidelines for Florida's citrus growers will be reduced under a new statewide approach.
This winter's consolidation into a single document of what had been four different regional best management practices manuals will be a boon for growers with groves scattered around the state, says Bill Bartnick, environmental administrator at the Florida Department of Agriculture in Tallahassee.
The change also offers an entry point into the program for growers not previously covered by the older manuals. Enrolling in the BMP program provides growers with a "presumption of compliance" with the state's water quality requirements, Bartnick says. Those growers don't need to monitor water quality and nutrient discharge limits.
Most growers already in the program will see few changes under the new manual; the biggest differences for them are new nutrition recommendations in the University of Florida's publication SL 253, "Nutrition of Florida Citrus Trees."
These growers in the state's Flatwoods areas—covered previously by the Peace River, Indian River and Gulf manuals—otherwise will be grandfathered into the new guidelines, Bartnick says. Between 1,000 and 2,000 citrus operations in the Flatwoods already are enrolled.
Previous BMP guidelines for these areas already were comprehensive, given drainage issues and a high water table.
"They have to worry about too much water as well as no water," says Tom Obreza, interim associate dean for Extension at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "There's more to think about in poorly drained soil in terms of soil and water issues."
Two-year grace period
Growers in the state's well-drained Central Ridge, which will be most affected by the changes, will have a two-year grace period to re-enroll, Bartnick says. With about 100,000 acres in the Ridge currently in the program, getting those growers up to speed on the changes will take some time.
Previously they fell under more streamlined guidelines focused on managing nitrogen and curtailing its leaching into groundwater. The new statewide manual runs 74 pages and covers not just nutrient management but irrigation and drainage management, integrated pest management, and sediment and erosion control.
Some parts of the new, broader checklist—canal care, for instance—won't apply to Ridge growers, Obreza says. Their main concerns are groundwater and nitrogen management, while Flatwoods growers must focus more on surface water and phosphorus management.