A 20-year plan to dramatically reduce phosphorus levels of agricultural water entering the Florida Everglades is working, thanks to proper implementation of best management practices by growers, training by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and cooperation with state and federal agencies.
“It is a partnership that has worked,” said Samira Daroub, a professor of soil and water science at the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade. “It is one of the success stories in the area and also in the country.”
In 2015, the EAA saw a 79 percent reduction in phosphorus, with an average in past years of more than 50 percent (state law requires a minimum 25 percent reduction). Monitoring by the South Florida Water Management District shows an average number of 94 parts per billion of phosphorus in the water – substantially lower than it was in 1986, when a widespread algal bloom infested one-fifth of Lake Okeechobee, creating a gunk-filled soupy mixture that was a direct result of fertilizers from the EAA.
“The story is much bigger than even this astounding result,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at UF/IFAS. “The marketplace won’t always take care of places like the Everglades, and that’s why the work of public land-grant university scientists is so important. It’s science in the service of society.”
Professor Daroub conducts workshops twice a year for nearly 250 farmers, ranchers and personnel wishing to obtain a permit to farm in the EAA. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services works with UF/IFAS researchers and personnel from the South Florida Water Management District to develop and adopt best management practices (BMPs) for different types of agricultural operations. BMPs are research-based guidelines designed to benefit water quality and water conservation, while maintaining or enhancing agricultural production.
Samira Daroub (right) and Elsa Krauss check a water monitoring device in a canal in the Everglades Agricultural Area near Belle Glade, FL. UF/IFAS File Photo