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Best Management Practices

The Future of Florida Agriculture

Due to a state-wide effort to reduce pollution of Florida's waters, best management practices, or BMPs, are the future of agriculture in Florida. BMPs are guidelines advising producers how to manage the water, nutrients, and pesticides they use in order to minimize agriculture's impact on the state's natural resources. According to UF/IFAS BMP Coordinator Brian Boman, "Within two years, whatever commodity you're producing around the state, you'll need to be involved in BMPs."

Why Do We Need BMPs?

Agricultural activity is linked to the contamination of watersheds with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. In coastal areas, even large releases of stormwater are considered polluting since they reduce the salinity of estuarine systems, resulting in the destruction of marine habitat. Other pollutants that can be problematic include sediment and aquatic weeds, Boman says.

BMPs reduce the amount of nutrients, sediments, and pesticides that enter the water system. Because much of the state is built on limestone, which allows water to return relatively unfiltered to the aquifer, pollutants can enter the water supply quickly, endangering humans and ecosystems.

How Will BMPs Be Implemented?

The Florida Watershed Restoration Act of 1999 directed the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (DACS), and Water Management Districts to work together to reduce pollution in Florida's waters, citing BMPs as the best way to accomplish this task.

Compliance with BMPs is currently voluntary, assuming levels of participation among Florida growers continues to grow. Farmers who choose to follow BMPs must keep records of their compliance with the standards.

What Are BMPs?

BMPs tend to cover four major areas, which overlap: nutrient management, or how producers use fertilizers; pest management, or how they use pesticides; water management, or how they use and discard water; and sediment management, or how they affect the sediments on and around their property.

All of these areas encourage the careful monitoring and management of resources used, both in the amount used and the ways used (including timing and placement). Boman points out that to comply with BMPs, many farmers have to buy special equipment that can be very expensive. But the state, he says, offers cost-share programs that can mitigate the financial impact for producers to encourage them to begin complying with the guidelines.

If, for example, a pesticide speed sprayer costs $35,000, a farmer might not be able to spend an extra $15,000 to buy a mechanism that makes the sprayer extremely precise (reducing waste, and thus pollution). However, FDACS or the producer's water management district might pick up the majority of the cost for that precision applicator. In this way, the state hopes to encourage all producers to begin implementing BMPs.

BMP Manuals

Some BMP manuals are for a specific industry in a specific region (e.g., Indian River citrus), while others are for the state's entire industry (e.g., vegetable and agronomic crops). Boman says the latter can get pretty complicated, because they have to deal with all the specific variations of each region of the state. For example, some areas of the state have flat, sandy soils with hard pans and shallow water tables, while others have rolling hills with deep sands. These differences can profoundly change the way water drains off land and into the watershed.

Most of Florida's agricultural industries have BMP manuals, and those that don't soon will. BMP manuals coming out in the near future include those for the state's equine, field nursery, forage, and sod industries.

BMPs are good not only for the environment, but also farmers and the general public, says Boman. "The state legislature recognizes that this is a good public investment, if they can help these farmers do a better job of reducing pollutants going into state water bodies." Everyone in the state needs clean water to drink--and for many other uses.

For more information about Integrated Pest Management (IPM), visit IPM Florida.

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