Water quality is a topic near and dear to the hearts of those in Florida agriculture, and the announcement of a new Florida 4R Certification Program focusing on improving water quality is proof of that dedication. Announced at the first 4R Field Day on November 22 in Parrish, Florida, the Florida 4R Certification Program is the culminating effort of numerous state and national agencies and ag organizations operating in The Sunshine State.
The program, only the third of its kind in the country, will add another tool in Florida ag’s toolkit to focus on water quality, and the list of the program’s supporters and creators is a who’s who of national and Florida-based ag agencies and organizations.
David Royal, the Nutrient Stewardship Project Manager for the Florida chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit, is heading up the Florida 4R Certification Program. Serving as the chairman of the program’s board, Royal shared the ins and outs of the new program.
The 4Rs in Florida
With Florida’s finite amount of fresh water, a large ag industry, and a booming population, water quality has long been an important issue. “What is most important is the water quality,” Royal explains. Florida farmers and other ag industry stakeholders have long used the 4Rs to improve water quality in Florida and to fulfill their self-appointed role as good stewards of the environment.
“The 4Rs were developed by The Fertilizer Institute, the International Plant Nutrition Institute and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute,” Royal shares. “The 4Rs are the Right Source, the Right Rate, the Right Time, and the Right Place — it has the scientific backing that it helps improve and protect the water quality. The goal is to use practices that keep the nutrients in the root zone so they will be absorbed by the plant, and water management plays a major role.”
The Florida ag industry currently utilizes programs like the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program and Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality in The Sunshine State. The Florida 4R Certification Program “is another tool that the ag industry is taking on their own to help improve and protect water quality,” Royal says.
Details of the New Florida 4R Certification Program
The new Florida 4R Certification Program has been in the works for some time, with the program’s board seeking input from ag industry stakeholders to create a program that would best suit. “We visited with fertilizer dealers, ag association groups, environmental groups, government agencies, and the public,” Royal says. Two stakeholder meetings saw input from attendees that were taken into consideration to benefit the program.
Board members met four times in the past year to iron out the details. The board consists of:
Royal maintained that “this program is for fertilizer dealers, agronomists, and consultants. They will be audited by a third-party auditor to verify the recommendations that they are making to the farm.” The idea is that recommendations for 4R nutrient stewardship and BMPs must be tailored to each ag operation based on factors like the operation’s soil, the crops being grown, and other unique conditions that differ from farm to farm. By certifying those who make nutrient recommendations to farmers, growers, and ranchers—fertilizer dealers, agronomists, and consultants—the concepts and benefits of the 4Rs will be optimized when utilized on farms and ranches and will have a greater impact on water quality.
Royal explains that the program will audit participants annually on 30 evaluation criteria: seven address 4R training and education, twelve relate to nutrient recommendations, five address nutrient application, and six have to do with maintenance of proper documentation. Royal adds that the “program works hand in hand with the BMP program.”
Feedback concerning the Florida 4R Certification Program from interested parties, such as the 130 or so farmers, fertilizer dealers, ad industry stakeholders, government agencies and officials who attended the Florida 4R Field Day, has been positive so far.
“From what we’ve been told,” Royal shared, “they see it as another proactive, positive step that Florida agriculture producers are taking on their own to help improve and protect water quality.”
Getting More Information
The Florida 4R Certification Program is slated to begin January 2020 (with Global 4R Council approval). Royal says those interested in seeking more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and that the Global 4R Council is currently working on a website that will have a link to the Florida 4R Certification Program.
Once started, the Florida 4R Certification Program is expected to have a positive impact on Florida’s water quality and offer another opportunity for those in Florida agriculture to set a national example. “Florida agriculture understands the importance of water quality and wants to be the best stewards of it,” Royal emphasized. “The land is what takes care of them, so they understand they must take care of the land and its natural resources.”