Stone Fruit Crops, Water Resources, and Best Management Practices

SFNCAgricultural best management practices (BMPs) are practical measures for improving water quality and increasing water conservation; they are developed through research, field testing, and expert review. BMPs may be structural, such as tailwater recovery systems and stormwater ponds, or nonstructural, such as managing fertilization and irrigation rates.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) develops and adopts BMPs designed to reduce farm pollutant discharges, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, and save on water use. Working with the agriculture industry, the University of Florida, and others, FDACS has adopted BMP manuals for various commodities. Peach orchards fall under the Florida Specialty Fruit and Nut Crops BMP manual, which covers key aspects of water quality and water conservation, such as:

  • Nutrient Management to determine nutrient needs and sources, and manage nutrient applications to achieve maximum plant nutrition and minimum discharge to water resources.
  • Irrigation Management to address the method and scheduling of irrigation to reduce water and nutrient losses.
  • Sedimentation and Erosion Control to reduce or prevent the transport of nutrients and sediments from production areas to waterbodies.
  • Water Resources Protection, through the use of buffers, fertilizer setbacks, and other practices.

Reasons to Implement BMPs

In addition to helping protect water resources, implementing BMPs provides other benefits. For instance:

  • Growers who enroll in and implement the applicable BMPs have a presumption of compliance with water quality standards. This is an alternative to imposing additional regulatory/permitting requirements.
  • Enrolled growers are eligible to receive cost-share for certain BMPs (see summary of cost-share programs).
  • The Florida Right to Farm Act generally prohibits local governments from regulating an agricultural activity that is addressed through implementing FDACS-adopted BMPs.
  • Growers who implement FDACS-adopted BMPs might satisfy some water management district permitting requirements (check with your district).
  • Many BMPs increase production efficiency and reduce costs.
  • BMP participation demonstrates agriculture’s commitment to water resource protection, and maintains support for this non-regulatory approach to meeting water quality and conservation goals.

In areas with an adopted basin management action plan, and within the Northern Everglades, Florida growers must either implement BMPs or conduct costly water quality monitoring to demonstrate compliance with water quality standards. Otherwise, they may be subject to enforcement by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the applicable water management district. Implementing BMPs is an economically feasible way for agricultural producers to meet this statutory requirement.

How to Enroll in FDACS BMPs

As of January 26, 2015, there were almost 9,600 acres of specialty fruit and nut operations enrolled in FDACS BMPs throughout 35 counties in Florida. More than 6,600 of the enrolled acres were located collectively in Polk, DeSoto, Alachua, Miami-Dade, and Hillsborough counties.

Trained FDACS staff and contractors are available at no cost to assist growers with enrollment, which involves on-farm assessment of ways to minimize nutrient losses and reduce water use. The assessment includes a review of fertilization and irrigation practices, identification of water resource features, and discussion of how to address any observed concerns. This is a critical part of the enrollment process because the presumption of compliance is based on an expectation that producers understand and address the water quality and conservation issues on their operations, within economic and technical constraints.

The outcome of the assessment is a checklist that documents the BMPs applicable to the operation. The producer then signs and submits a Notice of Intent to implement the practices, along with the completed checklist. A grower already may be doing all applicable BMPs, or there may be some additional practices needed that are feasible to implement.

In preparing for an enrollment visit:

  1. Identify production areas/activities near water resources (such as wetlands, streams, sinkholes, and springs); ponded or other poorly drained areas; and conveyances that discharge offsite.  FDACS staff will discuss with you what BMPs apply to these circumstances.
  2. Be ready to confirm the parcels of land you want to enroll in the program.  It is important to have accurate tax parcel identification numbers on the Notice of Intent.
  3. Arrange to have someone available who is familiar with the nutrition and irrigation practices of your operation.

It helps to read the relevant BMP manual before the enrollment visit, and to write down any questions you may have about the BMPs, unfamiliar terms, or other manual contents. You can get the manuals at: http://freshfromflorida.com/water/bmp/

After Enrolling in BMPs

Implementing the applicable BMPs is the key to maintaining a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards. An important part of BMP implementation is record keeping, as specified in FDACS rules and BMP manuals. BMP records should be accurate, clear, and well-organized. You may develop your own record-keeping forms or use the ones provided in the manual. FDACS staff, soil and water conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and/or county Extension staff can assist growers with BMP implementation and record-keeping methods.

Follow-up with agricultural producers after enrollment is essential to the credibility and success of BMP programs. FDACS conducts site visits (at the producer’s convenience) and mails out written surveys to gather information on BMP implementation, grower needs, and potential improvements to the BMP program. This effort also helps identify operations that have gone out of production, reduced or increased production acreage, or changed commodities.

Along with local governments and private industry, the agricultural community has an essential role in protecting water resources. When producers enroll in and implement BMPs, they underscore agriculture’s commitment to water resources protection and strengthen support for this non-regulatory approach.

CREDIT

by TERRY PRIDE

About the Author: Terry Pride is recently retired from the Office Agricultural Water Policy. To schedule an enrollment site visit, get help with BMP implementation, find out more about FDACS BMP programs, or see whether your operation is within the Northern Everglades or an area with a basin management action plan, contact FDACS at (850) 617-1727 or AgBmpHelp@doacs.state.fl.us.