LIVE OAK – Suwannee Farms, an agriculture operation that produces cattle, vegetables, and forage crops in Suwannee County, is dedicated to reducing nutrient losses to the environment while conserving water in the process.
The farm is participating in a three-year study to determine the effects of nutrient recycling on its operation.
The study is evaluating nutrient imports to the farm – such as manure, feed and fertilizer – and nutrient exports – such as crop products and beef that leave the farm, atmospheric loss, and nutrients that might leach into groundwater.
Soil, crops, and water are analyzed for nutrient concentrations – all to determine how efficiently those nutrients are being utilized on the farm and the potential for nutrients to be lost to the environment.
The study was initiated in 2009 by the Suwannee River partnership (SRP) and is being led by the University of Florida /Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Funding is provided by the Suwannee River Water Management District (District), UF/IFAS, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Suwannee Farms.
Now in its final year, the study will determine the effects of best management practices (BMPs) currently used on the farm and how these practices could expand to improve nutrient management.
“This study is a positive step toward improving nutrient management and protecting water quality,” said Hugh Thomas, SRP coordinator. “It also has the added benefit of conserving water.”
Building nutrients and organic matter in soils allows the soils to hold moisture which conserves irrigation water. Improved irrigation management conserves water and protects water quality. The goal is to keep the right amount of water in the root zone, which is vital to reducing nutrient losses to the environment.
Thomas said over watering pushes fertilizer past the root zone. Under watering stresses the crop and doesn’t allow fertilizer to be utilized. But application of the right amount of water helps the crop take up fertilizer, which results in the protection of water quality and a productive yield for the farmer.
Once the study is complete, the findings will be used to provide nutrient management recommendations to dairy and other confined-animal operations.
“This research could have far-reaching effects,” said Thomas. “The data will be used to improve BMPs state-wide and possibly around the nation.”
Thomas said the study is expected to be finalized sometime next year.