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Agriculture Press Release

July 12, 1999

Poultry Producers Taking Steps to Improve Management Practices

The rural areas of north-central Florida are well known for the bounty of their natural resources and productive agricultural industries that help sustain the quality of life and the economy of the region.

To protect those resources and the economy, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has joined with local, state and federal agencies to help poultry producers in the Suwannee River region develop and implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) for their operations.

Participating poultry producers will develop nutrient management plans and install poultry waste management facilities, such as litter storage barns and dead bird composters, to reduce nitrates going into the groundwater.

"This program will help poultry producers stay in business, while still protecting the natural resources of the area," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford said. "This is a voluntary, incentive-based approach."

The Suwannee River Basin Nutrient Management Working Group was organized in 1998 to help local producers implement BMPs. Government agencies participating in the working group include the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Suwannee River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the University of Floridas Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and a host of other federal, state and local government agencies. Agricultural interests ranging from Goldkist to the Florida Farm Bureau Federation are also participating in the effort.

With 95 percent of the watersheds dairy farms committed to implementing BMPs in the Middle Suwannee region, a goal of the working group is to help poultry producers in the region install new BMPs by December 2000.

Cost-share programs such as the USDAs Small Watershed (PL-566) project and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) will be utilized, along with state funds from the water management district and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to help producers implement the BMPs.

The PL-566 program is administered by the NRCS and is sponsored locally by the Suwannee and Lafayette Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The program pays up to 65 percent of the cost of a project, with a maximum payment of $100,000. Only producers in the Middle Suwannee River Area (from Dowling Park to Branford) are eligible for the PL-566 program.

Once poultry producers have signed up for the PL-566 voluntary program, staff from the Suwannee River or Lafayette Soil and Water Conservation Districts will collect water quality information from farms to establish project priorities.

USDAs Farm Service Agency and the NRCS administer EQIP funds. The program pays up to 75 percent of the cost of implementing approved practices, with a maximum payment of $50,000. EQIP funds are allocated through a competitive application process, which means a producer may have to apply for several years to be ranked high enough to receive funding.

In 1999, matching state funds for EQIP include $200,000 from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. These state dollars will be used primarily by poultry farmers to supplement federal allocations by financing half of the producers remaining share up to $9,240.

In the Suwannee River Basin, the water management district has contracted with the NRCS to form an Accelerated Poultry Planning Team for BMP implementation. The team is located at the water management district office in Live Oak and focuses on developing conservation plans for poultry farms in the Middle Suwannee River basin. The planning team includes Ray Swicegood (project coordinator), Barbara Broxterman (engineer), and Cathi Ellis and Fletcher Stephens (planners).

The planning process may involve several visits to the poultry operation to develop a farm survey, resource inventory, engineering design, and plan layout before the BMP can be implemented and certified. The initial farm visit also includes a meeting with the producer to

discuss the planning process and available BMP options. The resource inventory consists of information about a farm, such as soil types and slope, and potential sinkholes and wetlands.

After the producer selects the BMPs that best suits their operation, the planning team completes engineering designs for facilities such as litter storage shelters and composters. Nutrient management plans are developed based on the nutrients available from the litter and land available for recycling. If a farmer uses litter as a crop fertilizer, for instance, the plan will include litter application rates. Some farmers may also decide to sell the litter to other users.

BMPs are constructed by farmers who typically hire contractors to build the structures, while the planning team provides construction checks to ensure that approved standards and specifications are maintained. The final and most important step of this process involves following the BMPs identified in the nutrient plans.

To ensure long-term success and credibility of the voluntary, incentive-based program, producers must be committed to maintaining BMPs. Federal and state environmental and regulatory agencies will only support this voluntary approach as long as these newly implemented BMPs are properly maintained and operated.

"Without creating new government rules and regulations, poultry producers one of our major agricultural industries are taking the lead in protecting some of Floridas most important natural resources," Crawford said. "And by volunteering to implement and maintain these new BMPs, they are also preserving the quality of life in north-central Florida."

For information about the Suwannee River Basin Nutrient Management Working Group, contact Darrell Smith at 800-226-1066 (in Florida), or visit the group online at <http://doacs.state.fl.us> or <www.srwmd.state.fl.us>.

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For more information:

Rich Budell
(850) 488-7447


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