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UF researchers awarded $1.8M to improve nutrient management of Suwannee Valley farms

LIVE OAK, Fla. — Researchers at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center – Suwannee Valley recently received a $1.8 million award for a 5-year project to develop precision nutrient application methods for the region. The on-farm project focuses on placing crop nutrients directly to the root zone following the “Right Placement, Right Timing, Right Source and Right Amount” (4 Rs) principles of nutrient management.

The Precision Nutrient Application project will demonstrate these Best Management Practices (BMPs) beginning with corn producers, in the Suwannee Valley region. BMPs provide guidance that maintains crop success while improving water quality, conserving water, and potentially reducing farm operation costs. One aspect of the project is to determine the cost of adopting this management practice on the scale that our farmers operate.

“The most common way to apply nutrients in many areas of the U.S. is by broadcast application,  because it can be accomplished quickly and is perceived to be more cost-efficient,” said Charles Barrett, a UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized agent for water resources based in Suwannee Valley. “This project will demonstrate the correct application of nutrients by the row to reduce nitrogen losses, making it easier for plants to access the nutrients they need to grow. The economic analysis built into the project will help us determine where cost increases and decreases are for the farm operation and help us provide guidance on how to adopt this practice most cost-effectively”.

The project was developed and supported by the Suwannee River Partnership, which is a collective of public and private stakeholder and agency groups that meet to plan research-based solutions to protect the region’s water resources. The partnership is funded by the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services – Office of Agricultural Water Policy, Suwannee River Water Management District, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

 

“The partnership has come together as a team to help the agriculture industry improve and protect water quality of our state,” said David Royal, Florida nutrient stewardship project manager for The Nature Conservancy and SRP steering committee member. “As more farms come on board, just think of the differences that will be made. The farmer/grower/rancher want to do the right practices, because they want to be the best stewards of the land, as they truly understand the land is what takes care of them.”

Adhering to principles like the 4Rs is critical to the success of the Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). BMAPs, one of which encompasses the Suwannee Valley region, set the path to improving water quality and quantity throughout Florida, and reducing nitrogen is one of the keys to meeting their goals.

The techniques used in this upcoming project have already been applied on-farm once with great success.

“One grower we have partnered with has already reduced his yearly nitrogen use by 250,000 pounds and has saved 200 million gallons of water using precision nutrient application techniques and soil moisture sensors,” Barrett said. “We are excited to build on this success and to showcase the ingenuity of our farming community.”

Cover cropping will also be incorporated as a strategy to improve soil health, reduce nutrient losses, suppress weed growth, and reduce soil erosion.

“With all the springs, the new BMAP, Senate Bill 712, and agriculture being a major industry, we must continue to look at better production practices to help the industry to help improve and protect the water quality,” Royal said. “On top of that, the entire state has to come together if we are truly going to make a difference.”

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