Water Quality BMPs, what are they and why?

October, 2013
Courtney Davis - Extension Agent I, Dairy/Water Quality, Okeechobee County Extension

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are defined by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Water Policy (OAWP) as “practices or combinations of practices that, based on research, field-testing, and expert review, are determined to be the most effective and practicable means for improving water quality.  BMPs must be: based on sound science, technically feasible, and economically viable for land owners.”  Now that you are confused let me explain it a little further.  The purpose of BMPs are applying researched practices that can help landowners to improve water quality on their land, these concepts must be fully researched, easy to do on your operations, and not too expensive.  In the case of cow/calf operation BMPs many of these “practices” are things that many of you are already doing on your operations. 

Some of these “practices” are nutrient management, i.e. as fertilizer, residuals and bio solids, animals nutrition, and animal waste; alternative water sources; prescribed grazing; sediment and erosion control measures; water resources management, i.e. water supply of improved pastures, ditch construction and maintenance, water control structures, installing grassed waterways; conservation buffers of waterways; fence installation near waterways or wetlands; high intensity (feeding areas, holding areas, water troughs) area management; animal carcass disposal; wellhead protection; wetlands and springs protection; prescribed burning; integrated pest management and pharmaceuticals.  That seems like a lot.  However, many of these practices, I am sure that you already do on your farm or ranch and some of these practices may not apply to your operations. 

So with that being said, you may think, “If I am already doing this why do I need to report it to FDACS?” The answer is simple, so agricultural operations can prove to government, the public, and anyone who asks that they are doing the best they can to help improve water quality.  Agriculture is under constant scrutiny about what they are doing to improve or deteriorate the environment.  When you sign up for the BMP program you sign a Notice of Intent to Implement (NOI), this is a checklist of the items that need be to implemented on your operation to be consider in compliance with the BMP program.  Once you have signed your NOI and a FDACS confirms that you have applied all feasible practices to your operations you are signed up for BMPs. 

So after you are signed up, what does that mean?  It shows that you have demonstrated a commitment to water conservation/quality and improvement and are helping to keep the state of Florida non-regulatory water policy.  BMPs were created to help producers have guidelines so they will know the best ways to help improve water quality.  They were created by a committee of ranchers, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, University of Florida/IFAS specialist and extension agents, NRCS, FDACS and water management districts. This committee worked together to make the best guideline to help make BMPs attainable and practical. 

Who should sign up?  That is a question with a somewhat broad answer, but the truth is everyone.  Even if you are a small or beginning operation you should still have a copy of the BMP manual and know what is required.  That way you can know the proper ways to help improve water quality.  And if you plan on expanding your operation you can start these practices from the beginning so that you not have to make changes later on down the road. 

For more information about Cow/Calf BMPs, please contact your local extension agent or your local agricultural water policy field staff.  http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Agricultural-Water-Policy/About-Us/Staff

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