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Sixth-generation farmer uses best management practices to take care of land

By Kelly Aue

LIVE OAK, Fla. — As a sixth-generation farmer in Columbia County, Matt Dicks uses Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) to manage his family’s farm, Price Creek Cattle Company.

“For farmers to stay in business, they need to take care of the land,” Dicks said. “Through the BMPs, it has everything right on track.”

At Price Creek Cattle Company, Dicks uses a variety of BMPs to help save water and reduce fertilizer leaching. “We use soil moisture probes (sensors), variable rate fertilizer, soil samples, and we have retrofitted our irrigation systems,” Dicks said.

Using BMPs are especially helpful during hurricane season. For example, when Tropical Storm Cristobal made its way across Florida, Dicks was able to make better irrigation decisions using soil moisture sensors. “During the rain, we were able to know right where our moisture levels were. So, we were not overwatering and we had some room to hold the rain we did get,” Dicks says.

The soil moisture sensors also reduced fertilizer leaching. “With being able to check at any time and know where you are at, it helps with the irrigation schedule,” Dicks said. “There is a lot less fertilizer leaching, because you are keeping everything in the root zone without washing it out.”

Even with the successful watermelon season, they would not have been able to implement BMPs without the help of cost-share. “It is such a good tool to help the environment and the way things have been the past several years it might have been hard to implement without cost-share.”

The Suwannee River Partnership works with farmers like Dicks to help implement BMPs in the Suwannee Valley Region. For 20 years, they have worked to address water quality and quantity.

Joel Love, UF/IFAS BMP Outreach Coordinator and member of the Suwannee River Partnership steering committee, has partnered with Dicks on adopting and researching additional BMPs on a five-year cover crop demonstration.

“Matt and his dad have been working with the Suwanee County Conservation District and UF/IFAS on a five-year cover crop demonstration,” Love said. “They are seeing if multispecies cover crop mixes, and other practices such as strip tillage, can improve soil health over time. In their case, they are able to graze their cover crops with beef herd, which has been shown to accelerate soil health improvement.”

Dicks continues to look for new BMPs to improve what he is doing. “I know there are some issues that could be better managed,” Dicks said. “We need to keep doing it right to keep going. Doing things, the way they need to be done, and manage things to the best of your ability.”

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