Environmental Sustainability for Agricultural Producers (Part 4)

Sustainability is a broad topic and covers many industries.  It is a hot buzzword that has taken on a variety of meanings in our lives.  However, in general, sustainability, in the environmental sense, is learning to maintain production with fewer inputs, or put another way, “doing more with less”.  It is up to the producer to determine what is best needed for their product to grow their business.  In agriculture, particularly, that means that a farmer has to balance water use, soil amendments, and pest management practices so that there is less added to the crop and yet still maintain their yields.  The focus in sustainability has been growing in recent years, with more emphasis from consumers insisting that farmers review their practices and be “more sustainable”.

Indeed, to grow crops commercially, a farmer inherently understands the balance of inputs into creating a viable crop.  However, with ever-increasing pressures beyond the farm, such as more stringent regulatory compliance, the need to manage the impacts to off-farm receptors, and more consumers desiring and pushing for better treatment of natural resources, farmers may not always know exactly how their growing practices may need to improve.  To understand how impacts from their consumption of water and nutrients may be optimized, it is important to perform metrics on each input.  However, as the focus of a farmer is to produce food, sometimes these factors are not always at the front of their minds.  

In Florida, the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) has developed Best Management Practices (BMP) guidelines for producers, spanning a variety of focuses, such as citrus, row crops, nurseries, and livestock.   These BMPs are focused in ensuring that a producer is aware of what potential impacts they may have on our lands and waterways.  An environmental consultant, who manages data daily, is well-suited to provide assistance to farmers in tracking their water usage and fertilizer and chemical applications as part of the BMP program.  Not only is this data necessary for permit compliance, but it helps the farmer evaluate their operations and to be more precise in their applications, which in turn reduces potential runoff that impacts our waterways.