Farmers, Ranchers and Landowners Doing Their Part to Improve Water Quality

Clint Thompson Florida, USDA-NRCS

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Aug. 14, 2020 – Drive across Florida and you will see evidence of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) work on the landscape.

Conservation practices such as riparian forest buffers, restored wetlands, contour strips and fields planted with protective cover are just a few visible signs of the agency’s work in our state.

NRCS conservationists in Florida work with farmers, ranchers, private forest landowners and local soil and water conservation districts to plan and install conservation practices. NRCS offers more than 170 individual practices and suites of practices that can be used to improve soil health, water quality, air quality and wildlife habitat. When planning these practices, NRCS staff helps producers maintain or improve agricultural productivity.

In Florida, nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, pest management and conservation buffers are conservation practices that improve water quality. Restoring historic longleaf pine forests by helping landowners’ plant, burn and remove invasive plants improves wildlife habitat as well as water quality.

As the nation celebrates National Water Quality Month in August, NRCS in Florida salutes the conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners who do their part daily to improve water quality on their operations. The impacts of their efforts are significant and rewarding. We are fortunate to have clean, safe water for drinking, agriculture and recreation in Florida and we appreciate your efforts.

Agriculture can and does play a critical role in improving water quality and other natural resources in our state. Because 70% of the land is privately owned in Florida, considerable water quality and other natural resource improvements will be achieved by farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners as they make conservation decisions every day.

NRCS and its partners are committed to helping producers find suitable solutions to their natural resource challenges, such as water quality impairment. In many regions of the nation, NRCS offers technical and financial assistance in high-priority watersheds identified by local communities and applicable state agencies.

For instance, the National Water Quality Initiative targets small watersheds with the highest potential for water quality improvements. Its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative offers incentives to eligible farmers and landowners to carry out voluntary conservation practices that avoid, control, and trap pollution in 13 states. Its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative targets producers in select watersheds in the states surrounding lakes Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie and Ontario.

In Florida the Source Water Protection strategy leverages our programs and practices to protect drinking water sources. In 2019, we established priority areas to focus program funding. This year, we are further refining those areas to identify high priority watersheds to address threats to source water. Outreach and implementation will target these areas for practices with increased payment rates.

NRCS staff works with farmers and landowners to combat invasive species, protect watersheds and shorelines from non-point source pollution and to restore wetlands in select watersheds.  NRCS is seeing results from producers’ efforts through these water-focused initiatives.

Our success in improving water quality in Florida rests with our producers and I am confident they will continue to do their part. For many farmers, investing in environmental resources is a tradition that goes back generations.

But we need more producers to include conservation as part of their operation. Producers who are interested in learning how to integrate conservation into their operation can visit USDA’s website for more information about NRCS conservation offerings.

Juan Hernandez is the state conservationist in Florida.