Glades area farmers reduce phosphorus runoff by 27 percent

Stormwater_Treatment_Area_in_Northern_Everglades

Sugar cane fields are adjacent to stormwater

treatment areas in the EAA.

Everglades Agricultural Area farmers have once again exceeded the phosphorus reduction requirements for water flowing from their farms to the Everglades, marking the 21st consecutive year EAA farmers have met the state’s strict water-quality standard south of Lake Okeechobee.

Phosphorus was reduced 27 percent in the 477,000-acre farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the 12 months ended April 30. Florida’s Everglades Forever Act requires the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA to be 25 percent less than before the reduction efforts began, the South Florida Water Management District said. It is not a year-to-year comparison.

SFWMD Governing Board member Melanie Peterson said the achievement is an “astounding accomplishment” considering high water levels from record rainfall. It was the wettest January since recordkeeping began in 1932.

The primary crop in the EAA in western Palm Beach County and eastern Hendry County is sugar cane, but vegetables and other crops are also produced there.

“Hearing these results makes all of the hard work and long hours we put in during this tough year even more worthwhile,” said John Scott Hundley of Hundley Farms east of Belle Glade.  “I’ve been working on our family’s farm for 26 years, and I can’t remember a tougher year managing water, outside of a major storm.  I’m proud of these results because they exemplify the expertise of the growers who were able to manage their farms in a way that protected local food supply and continued to provide water-quality performance for the Everglades.”

The results are made possible by the growers’ science-based “best management” farming practices such as on-farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods. Since 1996 those measures have prevented more than 3,055 metric tons of phosphorus, including 51 metric tons in the most recent period,  from leaving the EAA.

Too much phosphorus in the Everglades can cause unwanted plants such as cattails to crowd out native vegetation. Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring element found in soil, rock and rain.

“The Everglades Agricultural Area is a uniquely productive farming basin, unlike any other in the nation,” said EAA grower Paul Orsenigo of Pahokee-based Grower’s Management,  the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s  incoming chairman.

“Not only does the EAA provide abundant supplies of rice, sugar cane and vegetables — including enough lettuce for 3 billion salads — but EAA farmers are also essential partners in the success of one of the world’s largest environmental preservation efforts,” Orsenigo said.

Florida’s enactment in 1994 of the Everglades Forever Act was a monumental step forward for Everglades restoration efforts, FFVA said.  It created a public-private partnership between state and local agencies and EAA farmers that has resulted in providing clean water to the southern Everglades system.

South Florida’s water, especially water it moves into Everglades National Park, is cleaner than it has been in generations and meets stringent water quality requirements, the district said.

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