Helping Farmers Maximize Production Through Water Conservation

by TERESA SCHIFFER

Water, sunlight, and nutrients – the most basic ingredients for any grower. Sunshine is abundant, nutrients can be controlled, so what about the water? Clean, safe water is necessary for crops to grow and thrive. The Southwest Florida Water Management District is dedicated to preserving our water supply for current and future water users. Roughly 10,000 square miles fall within its jurisdiction, serving a population of nearly 5 million people across 16 different counties.

The District works closely with farmers to create sustainable watering practices. The FARMS (Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems) Programs have been developed to help growers participate in responsible watering practices. Below are some of the incentive programs geared towards this goal.

  • Mini-FARMS Program – This program is aimed at agricultural operations of 100 irrigated acres or less. It is a cost-share program that aims to protect water quality and conserve groundwater through best management practices (BMPs). Farmers are reimbursed for their participation up to 75 percent of their project costs, up to $5,000 per project. This program is designed to encourage the adoption of new and alternative best management practices to promote water conservation in growers’ operations. Some of the projects the District focuses on include till water recovery, pump stations, irrigation system updates, and weather stations. The FARMS program will reimburse growers for the tangible products they purchase, such as irrigation lines, filtration systems, and pumps, but not for services such as excavations. The funding through this program is very flexible and is available year-round. A monthly committee meeting approves requests for funding. One of the biggest benefits of this program for blueberry growers is the ability to make greater use of surface water, rather than deep groundwater. The pH of surface water is preferable for blueberries. Weather stations can also help to reduce costs by maximizing the efficiency of irrigation.
  • Well Back-Plugging – Pumping poor quality water from deep zones of the Upper Floridan aquifer can cause problems for growers. SWFWMD is working with SWUCA (Southern Water Use Caution Area) to rectify these issues with the Well Back-Plugging Program. The program primarily focuses on the Shell, Prairie, and Joshua Creek watersheds located in Charlotte and DeSoto counties.
  • Flow Meter Accuracy Testing Program – Any FARMS Program that involves a flow meter receives free accuracy testing for that meter. Other meters that are associated with WUPs (Water Use Permits) will be considered on a case-by-case basis. It is necessary that meters associated with WUPs be tested at least once every five years and calibrated so that they are accurate within +/- 5 percent of actual flow rate.
  • Funding for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Research – IFAS relies on funding through FARMS to support ongoing research projects that deal with a variety of agricultural commodities, urban landscape, and nutrient issues. While there are many programs under the IFAS umbrella, a majority of them deal with water use permitting, water quality, and water quantity best management practices.

The availability of clean, accessible water is an issue no Florida grower can afford to ignore. Through participation in programs such as those offered through FARMS, growers can help prevent the overuse and pollution of resources in order to ensure fruitful seasons throughout the years to come. If you would like more information on these programs please go online to www.WaterMatters.org/FARMS. You can also contact SWFWMD directly by reaching out to Patricia Robertshaw, (941) 377-3722 ext. 6523 or email her at Patricia.Robertshaw@WaterMatters.org.