The Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka hosted the first annual Growing Together: Central Florida Partners for Agriculture Symposium on July 27. The event was for both beginning and experienced growers and explored various tax, regulatory and insurance issues farm businesses must deal with.
Several presentations focused on irrigation and nutrient management and how growers can obtain cost-share funds to make improvements on their farms. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) provides cost-share funding through its Office of Agricultural Water Policy. Cori Hermle, an environmental consultant with FDACS, spoke about such opportunities during the event.
“You are only eligible for cost share if you are enrolled in our FDACS best management practices program. These programs can help you move into precision agriculture practices,” Hermle said. “For cost share, what we’ve typically done in the Central Florida area is fund soil-moisture probes to let you know when it is OK to irrigate. We also do weather stations. And we help with the funding of certain fertilizer equipment to move from broadcast applications to more of a banded application. We also do irrigation retrofits (to improve efficiency) on existing farms and equipment.”
Hermle said FDACS will cost share up 75% of the investment in these types of water and nutrient management tools.
Carole Estes, manager of the FARMS (Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems) program for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), spoke about cost-share opportunities from the water management districts. She noted the SWFWMD tends to focus on groundwater issues while the South Florida Water Management District focuses more on surface water.
Cost-share opportunities are offered through the districts’ FARMS programs. The Mini-FARMS program is available for smaller-scale projects and can cover up to 75% of the investment in tools and modifications to improve water and nutrient management efficiency.
“If you are interested in cost share, we generally need a two or three month lead time,” Estes said. “After you talk to us, we like to come out and do a site visit to figure out what you want to do and be sure it is something that can be done on the property. Then you would need to get cost estimates. Once we get your cost estimates, we develop our project summary and submit it to our governing board for approval.”
Derrick Wyle, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke about cost-share opportunities provided by the federal agency. The funds are available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and are channeled through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program.
Wyle said EQIP is the agency’s flagship conservation program. Cost-share funds can go toward water and nutrient management efforts, but also projects with broader environmental benefits like reducing soil erosion and improving wildlife habitat. There are more than 30 environmental concerns that could potentially receive funding.
“Participating in our financial incentive programs is completely voluntary, so you don’t have to worry about excess regulation. And we also provide technical assistance, if you just want advice on a conservation plan,” Wyle said. “Or we can turn that conservation plan into a financial assistance contract where you can select some or all of that plan where you can receive funds toward implementing those activities.”
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