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FDACS Clarifies the BMP Regulatory Program

Kim Shugar, Deputy Director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) was the second speaker of the 2020 Virtual Ag BMP Summit. She discussed what the FDACS Best Management Practices (BMP) program is and how it operates.

Florida Department of Ag and Consumer Services sealThe BMP program requires owners of agricultural land to implement applicable BMPs or conduct water quality monitoring in accordance with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or their water management district. To enroll in the program, land owners must submit a Notice of Intent to Implement BMPs to FDACS. This will also allow them to identify which BMPs need to be applied to their land. Those landowners that do not enroll in the FDACS BMP program will be referred to DEP for enforcement activities, including water quality monitoring.

The BMP program benefits farmers because it gives them management strategies, tools, and practices that will improve their water quality, conserve water use, and protect water resources, and it provides a presumption of compliance with water quality standards. The program is designed to be technologically and economically feasible for farmers, so staff will assist them in receiving the necessary resources to implement BMPs.

SB 712 (2020 Legislative Session) requires FDACS to conduct site visits every two years to ensure that BMPs are being carried out correctly. The bill also requires FDACS to review documentation of BMP implementation and collect fertilizer records. FDACS must submit an annual report  to the Governor and Legislature. If non-compliance occurs, the landowner will be referred to the DEP. As a resource for farmers, there are ten BMP manuals (one for each industry), which outline information on nutrient management, irrigation management, and water resource protection. Approximately every five years, these manuals will be revised to reflect advancements in research and changes in the law.

The BMP program relies on information from the research coordination committee and partner educational institutions to provide the latest science to farmers. Current research focuses on BMP demonstrations and examination of nutrient reduction efficiencies on farms. The BMP program is constantly evolving to reflect the newest technologies and discovering new ways for farmers to practice nutrient management.

Written by Natasha Roberts, CLUE Communications Intern

Q&A with FDACS
Q. What are the water quality requirements for producers in Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) areas?

A. Sections 373.4595 and 403.067, F.S., require agricultural landowners/producers in areas with basin management action plans (BMAPS) to implement and maintain all applicable BMPs adopted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) or conduct water quality monitoring prescribed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) at the cost of the landowner/producer to demonstrate compliance with water quality standards. If a landowner/producer chooses not to enroll in the FDACS BMP Program, the individual is referred to FDEP for water quality monitoring and/or other enforcement if the individual is found to be violating water quality standards. The FDEP rule that provides guidance on water quality monitoring is Chapter 62-307, Florida Administrative Code.

Q. We understand there is confusion with stakeholders with regard to the general term “BMP” and the statute definition and requirements. Please clarify.

A. Sections 373.4595 and 403.067, F.S. together define BMPs. BMPs are management strategies, tools and practices that improve water quality, conserve water, and protect water resources. The BMPs must balance water resource protection and production. They need to be technically and economically feasible on statewide basis. Because the FDACS program is a regulatory program and the implementation of BMPs provides a presumption of compliance with water quality standards, a landowner/producer must implement all applicable BMPs on the property. FDACS provides technical and financial assistance to producers where needed to assist in implementation BMPs. This regulatory approach to BMPs differs from how UF-IFAS and other traditional voluntary BMP programs approach BMPs where a landowner/producer may choose the BMPs they would like to implement. Part of the confusion exists because the FDACS program was initially a voluntary, incentive-based program, but has transitioned to regulatory-based program where the implementation of BMPs is required in BMAP areas.

Q. How does a practice become a BMP?

A. FDACS develops and adopts BMPs by rule in commodity-specific BMP manuals under Title 5M, F.A.C. Ten BMP manuals have been adopted. BMPs are developed using available research and expertise from educational institution partners and in collaboration with commodity groups and other stakeholders, and feedback from a research committee. Practices and technologies are evaluated on statewide level. When a practice or technology is considered to be technically and financially feasible then it will be adopted into the appropriate BMP manuals. For example, the replacement of an irrigation system with a high efficiency center pivot irrigation system is currently highly encouraged because of the water efficiency and nutrient reductions benefits, but it is currently not considered to be financially feasible to be considered a BMP. FDACS intends to update BMP manuals every five years, or sooner if needed for law changes and new information.

Q. How does FDACS manage cost share funding? Are there practices that aren’t technically BMPs that are allowed under cost share.

A. FDACS prioritizes cost share funding to implement BMPs, other practices and projects that provide the greatest nutrient reductions to water resources. FDACS will provide cost share assistance for technologies that provide the highest level of efficiency, even though it might not be a BMP because of the high cost. FDACS will provide financial assistance to upgrade irrigation systems to center pivot systems with the highest technology; however, FDACS does not provide funding to install an irrigation system where one does not already exist.

Q. What are the new requirements of SB 712, and provide some detail on the new reporting requirements related to fertilizer that will begin July 1, 2020?

A. SB 712 from the 2020 Legislative Session requires FDACS to conduct implementation verification site visits at each property enrolled in the FDACS BMP program every two years. FDACS currently conducts the site visits for each enrolled producer once every four to five years. The bill requires FDACS to collect and review applicable records at the time of the implementation verification site visit. This is also current practice. The new requirement in the law is to collect and retain fertilizer records at the time of the implementation verification site visit. FDACS is currently evaluating options to meet this requirement and will provide guidance at the appropriate time after bill is signed into law by the Governor.