Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.
Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.
In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.
Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs
The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.
The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices. For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!
Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.
For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory. Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.
Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals. These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS cost-share program. It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.
Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)
The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.
Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.
For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at Linda.Chaisson@nwfwater.com. To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.
The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.
This week’s featured video was produced by Alabama Extension to share the results of a successful project installing a variable rate center pivot irrigation system on a farm. They used a combination of advanced soil mapping and soil moisture sensors to develop the map needed to program the equipment and to guide irrigation scheduling. The farmer estimates the total system helped him reduce water usage by 60%, and also reduced variation of production in the field by eliminating both the excessive and inadequate irrigation that had occurred with his standard system in the past.
If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks: Friday Features
If you come across an interesting or humorous video related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to: Doug Mayo
A producer in the Suwanee Valley took advantage of cost share funds to switch from using a diesel irrigation pump (left) to an electric pump (right). Photo source: FDACS Office of Energy
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of Energy is currently offering free energy evaluations, along with cost-share funds to increase on-farm energy efficiency for agricultural producers in Florida. This includes all types of operations, such as row crop, fruit and vegetable farms, nurseries, livestock and poultry operations, dairies, and aquaculture farms.
What is an energy evaluation and how is it done?
It’s estimated that dairy farms with 50 cows or more could save 40-55% of milk vacuum pump costs by using a variable frequency drive or variable speed drive (VFD) (shown above) on milk vacuum pumps. Photo source: FDACS Office of Energy
The purpose of the free evaluations (which are valued at $4,500) is to let producers know how they can maximize energy efficiency, and ultimately reduce costs on-farm. During these evaluations, members of a Mobile Energy Lab (MEL) walk through the operation with the producer, evaluating all forms of energy use. Since energy use is often linked to water use (irrigation pivots, for example), the team also assesses water use.
MEL teams are made up of energy experts contracted by FDACS from one of three universities: the University of Florida, Florida A&M University, and the University of Central Florida. The MEL will be made up of members from the university closest to the farming operation being evaluated.
After the MEL team has finished their on-site visit, they prepare an evaluation and send it to the producer. The evaluation details energy use, and makes recommendations about how to increase on-farm efficiency. These recommendations depend on the operation and what the farmer is interested in doing. They can include switching to more efficient lighting, converting irrigation pumps from diesel to electric, using variable frequency drives (VFDs) on milk vacuum pumps on dairy operations, or switching to or adding small-scale renewable energy generation, like solar or biomass, among others.
After a producer decides on changes he or she would like to make, FDACS offers 80% reimbursement (cost-share) up to $25,000 to implement the recommendations provided by the evaluation.
An additional advantage of having a free energy evaluation, is that the recommendations can also be used to apply for cost share funds from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Producers could potentially receive cost share dollars from both FDACS and NRCS to increase on-farm energy efficiency.
FDACS cost share funds were used to add solar energy production on a poultry farm in North Florida. Photo source: FDACS Office of Energy
What is the time-frame for applying for energy evaluations and cost share funds?
FDACS offers statewide evaluations and cost share through their FRED Program (Farm Renewable and Efficiency Demonstration). These funds are set to expire in September 2018, so any items or equipment obtained with cost share funds must be purchased and installed by the end of September 2018.
To have enough time to apply for and receive an energy evaluation (which is the first step to obtaining cost share funds), applications for evaluations must be turned in to FDACS by February 1, 2018.
The good news is that a similar program will continue after September. However, it will be in a more geographically restricted area. The Office of Energy received BP RESTORE funds to continue funding energy evaluations and cost share in the Apalachicola and Suwannee River Basins. These funds will be available starting this spring. The office hopes to secure more RESTORE funds in the future to expand the geographic reach of the program.
Who is eligible for energy evaluations and cost share funds?
Producers that are eligible for NRCS EQIP funds are eligible for this energy program. As stated by FDACS, this means a producer has to:
- Have control of the land for the term of the proposed contract period.
- Be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions described in 7 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 12.
- Have an interest in the agricultural operation as defined in 7 CFR Part 1400.
- The average adjusted gross income of the individual, joint operation or legal entity may not exceed $900,000
How do you apply for an energy evaluation?
To apply for an energy evaluation, you need to submit an application to the FDACS Office of Energy. Application forms and instructions on how to submit them, as well as more information about the program can be found at FDACS Energy Incentives for Ag Producers
If you have any questions, Takara Waller, Office of Energy can guide you through the process. Her contact information is:
(850) 617-7470 (phone)
(850) 617- 7471 (fax)
For more information about NRCS EQIP cost share funds, contact your local NRCS office. Use the following link for contact information for NRCS Offices in the Panhandle Region.
Your local USDA Farm Services Agency can also provide more information about cost share programs related to energy. Contact information by county is found at the FSA Office Locator map.
[important]Remember: an energy evaluation is the first step in obtaining cost share funds to increase on-farm energy efficiency and savings.[/important]
A new program, hosted by the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC), is helping local farmers and producers maximize their growth potential through export sales!
This program provides a scholarship to qualified recipients, which facilitates the development of a uniquely customized Agribusiness Export Marketing Plan. These plans assist “new-to-export” and “currently exporting” growers and value added producers in the identification of overseas growth strategies, as well as address target markets with sales potential. Other items discussed in the plan include market entry strategy, a competitive analysis, and an action plan for implementing items in the plan.
The Florida SBDC has worked with David Dinkins, UF/IFAS extension agent to help develop marketing plans. Dinkins describes this program as a tool that can help Floridian farmers diversify markets, a major objective for many Floridian farmers. “We have lots of support via the Extension Agents at IFAS, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida SBDC”, Dinkins said. “These export plans have been a great experience for everyone involved. The farmers and value-added producers have been very happy with the final product. We are very excited about the potential that this pilot program has for our Florida agricultural producers, and you can’t beat the quality of the service that the Florida SBDC provides, or the $250 price tag.”
The application process is relatively simple. The link to apply is http://floridasbdc.org/services/agribusiness-export-marketing-plan-services/. Once qualified, farmers meet with a Florida SBDC Certified Global Business Professional to conduct a confidential, in-depth business assessment. The Specialist will prepare and provide your company with a customized Agribusiness Export Marketing Plan.
The qualifications for this program are:
Florida farmers and value-added food producers only – food producers must source 51% of the food product from Florida
The products must be produced in the state of Florida and must be provided from a Florida location
New to export farmers/producers or current exporters looking to expand into new international markets
A minimum of three years in business
$500,000 minimum in annual sales
The cost for preparation of an Agribusiness Export Marketing Plan is $5,000. Qualifying companies are eligible for a $4,750 scholarship, making the cost to your company $250. This pilot program is only being offered for a very limited time. To qualify, please have your applications submitted by November 15th, 2017.
For more information, please call 1.800.450.4624
David Dinkins, UF/IFAS Multi County Community Resource Development/Food Systems Extension Agent, can be reached for further commentary or questions at email@example.com.
The Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab Team, from left to right: Mark Miles, Rex Patterson, and Robert Patterson
The Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab
Northwest Florida’s Mobile Irrigation Lab (MIL), run by Mark Miles, Rex Patterson, and Robert Patterson, is working hard to help farmers increase crop yields and lower costs through improved irrigation efficiency. By increasing efficiency, farmers can reduce operating costs and increase yields. The MIL has been providing free irrigation evaluations in row crop systems since 2005, and has completed more than 1,000 evaluations across the Panhandle, from Escambia to Jefferson County.
Not only are these irrigation assessments good for a farmer’s bottom line, but they are a highly effective way to help conserve Florida’s water resources. The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) estimates that the MIL evaluations have resulted in a savings of more than 9.25 million gallons of water per day, totaling more than 2.5 billion gallons groundwater saved to date. The MIL is funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the NWFWMD.
The team places a water collection bucket every 20 meters in a straight line along the path of the center pivot to capture irrigated water. Once the buckets are in place, the pivot is turned on and starts moving across the field.
Why are these evaluations important and how are they done?
The MIL wants to make sure that a farmer’s irrigation system is running at maximum efficiency, and a major part of this is making sure that the center pivot distributes water evenly across the field. If not, some plants receive less water than others, and farmers have to increase the amount of water applied to make sure all plants get enough. In areas that are over-watered, fertilizers can move past the crop’s root zone into the aquifer system. These nutrients are no longer available for plants to use, and they contaminate our water resources. By fixing distribution problems, farmers reduce the amount of water used and operating costs are lowered – less fertilizer is wasted and pumping costs (electricity or fuel costs) are reduced.
When the pivot has moved past the buckets, Rex Patterson measures the content of each one while Robert Patterson records the data. This will let the team know how evenly the pivot system is distributing water in the field.
During an MIL evaluation, the team will go through the entire irrigation system to evaluate how effectively it is running. This includes testing the center pivot’s distribution uniformity (how evenly water is applied to plants in the field), the application rate, pivot speed, water pressure, water flow rate and checking for leaks. The MIL analyzes this information and prepares a confidential report for the farmer. Recommendations to improve efficiency can include replacing sprinklers, fixing leaks and end gun adjustments, among others. Farmers can have an evaluation done every three years.
Mark Miles (left) places the flow meter on the center pivot’s pipe stand and Rex Patterson (right) waits for the system to pressurize before checking the water’s flow rate on the meter’s console.
How do you schedule an irrigation evaluation for your farm?
To schedule an appointment with the Northwest Florida Mobile Irrigation Lab, call: (850) 482-0388; Fax: (850) 463-8618. Their offices are located on 4155 Hollis Drive, Marianna, FL 32448.
If your farm is outside the Panhandle, us the following FDACS website to contact the MIL that serves your area: MILs in Florida. There are currently 14 MILs providing services in 62 counties across the state.
Cost-share funds for irrigation management
FDACS, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the water management districts offer cost-share funds for irrigation management, which includes irrigation system enhancements and conversions, end gun control and pump bowl upgrades among others. Contact your local FDACS field staff, NRCS office and water management district for more information on available cost-shares and funding deadlines. This information can be found on the following websites:
Conservation Stewardship Program – Application Deadline February 3, 2017
Agricultural producers can sign up for available funding through February 3, 2017 through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Agricultural producers and forest landowners can earn incentive payments from CSP for expanding conservation activities on their land, such as cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat. CSP encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new approaches such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality. The program also offers bundles, where a producer can select a suite of enhancements to implement and receive an even higher payment rate. All CSP contracts will have a minimum annual payment of $1,500.
NRCS has made several updates to the program this year to help producers better assess the conservation options and benefits to their operations and natural resources. “This year, the Conservation Stewardship Program provides even more opportunities for conservation and greater flexibility at the local level to prioritize resource concerns,” said Russell Morgan, NRCS Florida state conservationist.
New methods and software for evaluating applications will help producers see how they are meeting stewardship thresholds and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. Producers can expect to see nearly double the enhancements and conservation practices offered and better reporting tools projecting the results of their conservation efforts. These new tools also allow producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.
Information about CSP, including national and state ranking questions and enhancement descriptions, is available on the national website or visit your local NRCS field office.
For more information, contact: