The Florida legislature passed the 1999 Florida Watershed Restoration Act that gives the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the authority to develop interim measures. They include best management practices or BMPs, cost-share incentives and other technical assistance programs to assist agriculture in protecting our water resources.
By definition, BMPs are a practice or combination of practices, based on research, field-testing and expert review, to be the most effective and practicable on-location means to reduce potential nutrient contamination of surface and ground waters. The BMPs includes economic and technological considerations, growers can implement with a minimum impact on production.
In 2013 University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers, specialists and Extension agents created 10 BMP watershed teams to address the water quality and quantity issues that the agricultural industry is facing. Educational programs were developed to cover topics including irrigation efficiencies, nutrient application and efficiencies, soil testing, conservation techniques, runoff reduction, etc.
Seminars, field days, workshops and demonstrations have been conducted to assist the 44,000 commercial farmers who produce food, fiber, and livestock on approximately 10 million acres in Florida to better understand and adopt BMPs.
A website (http://bmp.ifas.ufl.edu/) has also been improved to provide meeting schedules, presentations, published works and other information to allow growers to make informed choices.
UF/IFAS research has demonstrated that water and fertilizer management are inextricably linked. Changes to one will almost inevitably affect the efficiency of the other.
The goal of proper water management is to keep both the irrigation water and the fertilizer in the root zone. Fertilizer and the energy to run irrigation systems are significant costs of production and through education growers are learning that besides benefitting the environment the adoption of BMPs can contribute significant savings to their operations while maintaining high yields.
The following are a few stories to illustrate the impact and successes of the BMP watershed teams.
Increasing irrigation efficiency in North Florida
North Florida’s Lower Suwannee River Basin is a major field crop production area, particularly for corn and peanuts. Supplemental watering is required to achieve maximum economic production due to sandy, porous soils.