LIVE OAK, Fla. — As the main research center serving farmers in the Suwannee River Valley, the mission of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center – Suwannee Valley (UF/IFAS NFREC-SV) is to protect the area’s natural resources while helping farms succeed. In support of this goal, the center researches agricultural best management practices (BMPs), primarily focusing on nutrient and water management.
“Over the past six years, the center has become much more modernized from a technology standpoint,” said Bob Hochmuth, assistant center director and UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized agent for vegetable crops. “We are in the middle of the implementation phase on adopting technology that we can test to be utilized on farms.”
“Through the commitment of Jack Payne, the former UF/IFAS senior vice president, to rebuild our center, along with the deans of Extension and Research, we were able to equip this center to be able to handle a variety of research projects,” Hochmuth said. “In addition, we’ve been supported by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Water Policy, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). They have funded many contracts and grants that are the driving force behind the research, funding and implementation of BMPs.”
“Research is an important part of developing and making sure BMPs work,” said Glenn Horvath, environmental consultant for FDACS. “For example, the center did some important research on soil moisture sensors and shared with farmers how this tool could be important in their efforts to reduce their loss of nitrogen and improve irrigation of their crops. Today, farmers tell me they don’t want to farm without them. The center’s efforts in research were really important to the widespread adoption of that BMP.”
Beginning in February 2015, the center enrolled in the FDACS BMP program using the guidance of the 2008 Vegetable and Agronomic Crops (VAC) BMP manual. In March 2020, Hochmuth met with Horvath to re-enroll under the updated 2015 VAC BMP manual which updated BMPs, including BMPs on hay and silage production.
To enroll in the BMP program, a farmer meets with a FDACS representative to identify all applicable BMPs on the BMP checklist. The farmer then signs a “Notice of Intent to Implement BMPs” (NOI), which indicates the farmer’s commitment to properly implement and maintain the applicable BMPs, and submits it to FDACS along with the checklist.
“To sign something called a ‘Notice of Intent’ is in line with my strategical thinking on what we are trying to do here,” Hochmuth said of his center. “Number one, I want to make this place important to the community; and number two, I want to be a good steward to the natural resources of the property I’m responsible for. Those two align with a Notice of Intent because that is our collective intent here at this farm.”
The center is located within the proposed Suwannee River Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). The Suwannee BMAP requires stakeholders in the watershed to reduce nitrogen inputs, and agriculture is a focus of the effort. BMP manuals, such as the VAC BMP manual, are adopted by rule by FDACS. The law requires farmers located in a BMAP to either implement FDACS-adopted BMPs or monitor their water quality as prescribed by FDEP.
While going through BMP enrollment process, Hochmuth was able to look at the NFREC-SV farm holistically to assess the applicability of all BMP categories – nutrient management, irrigation management, and water resource management.
“Overall, we did super well, but there are things such as the importance vegetative buffers around our lake and drainage ditches that I’m more cognizant about from the NOI visit,” Hochmuth said. “It was an opportunity to learn about things that are not immediately on your mind. We did talk a lot about nitrogen management, but it gives an opportunity to identify areas where we can improve strategies.”
Overall, Hochmuth’s goal is to share with the community the research that is happening at UF/IFAS NFREC-SV and the importance of implementing BMPs: “I want to get people on the back 40 to be able to show them the things that we are doing here.”
–Kelly Aue, Suwannee River Partnership