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Saving Citrus Growers Time and Money

Tacy CalliesWater

Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Citrus Task Force aims to improve grower services.

With the citrus industry facing challenges due to hurricanes, greening and reduced production, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is working to improve services and business processes for citrus industry customers.

That’s why District Executive Director Brian Armstrong formed the Citrus Task Force. It’s an initiative to solicit feedback from citrus industry customers on their interactions with the District’s regulatory and funding programs and to develop options to address concerns.

The District recognizes the key role the citrus industry plays in Florida’s history, identity and economy. The citrus industry contributes $9 billion per year to the state economy and employs nearly 46,000 Floridians.

“We believe there are opportunities to identify areas of improvement when it comes to our processes that will assist citrus industry customers without compromising our mission to protect the water resources,” Armstrong said. “We are hopeful some of the changes also will benefit other commodity groups.”

The initiative began in April 2018 when the task force conducted outreach with more than 45 stakeholders. Those stakeholders included government entities such as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, permittees, associations, consultants and industry leaders.

The task force evaluated the feedback and developed options aimed at addressing these concerns. Most of the identified concerns affect more than 50 percent of the stakeholders that gave feedback. The following is the list of items the District is working to address in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 in response to feedback the Citrus Task Force received:

  • Assess meter testing frequency requirements and consider options to reduce and/or offset grower costs without compromising data integrity.
  • Evaluate technology that offsets the monthly pumpage data collection costs for the grower and provides quantifiable benefits such as improvements in data integrity, water savings, etc.
  • Utilize feedback to improve the District’s data entry system and expedite applicable upgrades when possible.
  • Update the District’s agriculture irrigation model to ensure the appropriate amount of water is allocated for irrigation and that it recognizes current agricultural practices.
  • Document practices that promote the conversion of permitted surface water management systems that conserve water and benefit the environment via the District’s exemption program.
  • Initiate rulemaking to ensure water conservation credits are applied at the 10-year interval for 20-year permits for non-mulched crops (i.e., citrus, sod, etc.).
  • Document the District’s compliance process that evaluates overpumpage, such as the practice of considering “actual rainfall” in the District’s irrigation model.
  • Update the FARMS Model Economic Study with a focus on precision irrigation, update cost-benefit rates to increase opportunities for more growers to participate in water conservation projects and streamline the contract process where possible.
  • Maintain the District’s agricultural personnel and expertise through succession planning and the development of service area expertise to assist in maintaining local relationships.
  • Ease unnecessary economic burdens when water use permits less than 100,000 gallons per day are combined with triggering metering requirements.
  • Improve participation in the District’s Water Use Permit Advisory Group using stakeholder feedback.
  • Provide a one-time extension of the recertification requirement for agricultural permitted surface water management systems upon verification the system is functioning as designed.

The District is studying the feasibility of the above first two items and will be implementing the remaining 10 items. Many of these items will not only benefit the citrus industry, but all agriculture.

An update on the progress of this initiative will be given at the District’s Agricultural Advisory Committee meeting this summer. For more information about the Citrus Task Force, contact Ross Morton at Ross.Morton@WaterMatters.org.

This article was provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.