McArthur Farms, Inc., Citrus Division
Stan Carter, manager for the Citrus Division of McArthur Farms, Inc., enjoys life along the Indian River. Stretching 155 miles from Ponce de Leon Inlet south to Jupiter Inlet, the Indian River Lagoon is Florida’s most visited playground for boaters and anglers. The lagoon’s sea grass is the ideal habitat for fish like snapper and grouper, whose juvenile life is spent in these waters. The St. Lucie River Estuary is also home to a number of manatees, bottle-nose dolphins, and sea turtles. In fact, it is home to more species of plants and animals than any other estuary in North America.
“I was born and raised right here,” Carter said. “I’ve enjoyed the Indian River Lagoon, the recreation, boating and fishing.”
Yet, despite its idyllic appearance, the Indian River Lagoon is stressed. Problems have shown up in the fish, shellfish, and aquatic life. The apparent cause is the quality and quantity of water draining into the watershed. Carter, like many water enthusiasts, is well aware of these problems. He is also aware of the public’s misconception that agriculture is the major cause.
In 1998, the Indian River Citrus League’s Production Committee, chaired by Carter, took it upon itself to address the water quality issue. The committee -- in conjunction with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the South Florida Water Management District, and University of Florida -- took the initiative to develop Best Management Practices, or BMPs, for the area’s citrus growers.
Over 16 regulatory agencies, environmental associations and growers groups and more than 200 people, each with a unique perspective, were involved in the difficult task of crafting the universal set of practices.
“The first meeting when we all came together, we sat around a big square table,” Carter said. “We had the regulatory people over here, the environmental people there, and the growers on one side. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.”
The committee’s purpose was to minimize agriculture’s impact on the environment. To reach their goal, they identified five objectives: reduce fresh water runoff; minimize sediment transport; minimize aquatic weed transport; reduce nutrient discharge; and properly control pesticide use. Under Carter’s leadership, the committee negotiated Best Management Practices that would enable the growers to improve water quality and reduce the runoff into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.
“There were a lot of sides to each issue,” said Brian Boman, associate professor of agricultural engineering at the University of Florida. “Stan was able to guide that effort to one cohesive document in the end.”
Finally -- after four years, hundreds of subcommittees meetings, and hundreds of additional man-hours -- a manual was produced that would address and satisfy the concerns of the entire group.
To control fresh water runoff, ditches and canals are deepened to hold substantially more rainwater on the property. Risers at the end of culverts reduce the amount of runoff and also retain aquatic weeds and silt, minimizing the amount leaving the property. Containment areas for mixing pesticides reduce the chance of spills leaching into the canal system. Fertigation -- applying fertilizer through the irrigation system -- uses smaller amounts of chemicals, thus reducing the amount of nutrient discharge and saving money.
The BMP manual is a living document; it will continue to grow as new findings are shown to improve water quality.
Many of the BMPs are already being used in the groves. To assist with the more expensive upgrades, federal and state agencies offer cost-sharing incentives. Ninety-eight percent of the area’s growers overseeing 185,000 acres of Indian River citrus have signed on to this voluntary program. Six-thousand participants trained in English and Spanish utilize them on a daily basis. The practices are so effective that they are being used as blueprints for the Peace River Citrus Growing Region and the Gulf Growing Region. In addition, other agricultural groups are in the process of developing BMPs for their particular commodities.
Caring for the land has always been a priority for Florida’s growers. The Best Management Practices for the Indian River Area Citrus Groves have demonstrated that citrus operations can be economically viable while practicing sound environmental stewardship.
“Stewardship is really important to me,” Carter said. “I feel like God created a beautiful thing here in Florida. It’s just amazing what we have here. Taking care of what He’s given us is so important. If we all pull together we can do a great deal to preserve what we have.”