Program Helps Agriculture Industry Conserve Water

culvert and weather station

Above: This culvert/riser, which is an example of the types of items available for cost-share through the Mini-FARMS program, is used for water control on an agricultural site in southern DeSoto County. Right: Weather stations are funded through FARMS and Mini-FARMS as a way to irrigate more precisely, based on weather conditions. A good example is using a weather station for frost-freeze protection. The farmer has exact data for that area of the farm and can turn on his pumps at the appropriate time, instead of guessing or leaving them on all night.

Small agricultural growers from throughout the District may soon be able to participate in a program called Mini-FARMS to conserve water and improve water quality. The District is expected to fund the Mini-FARMS program in its FY2007 budget.

Mini-FARMS is a spinoff of the Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems (FARMS) program, which is a cost-share reimbursement program for agricultural projects located in the Southern Water Use Caution Area (SWUCA) that conserve water and protect water quality.

The SWUCA is a 5,100-square-mile area in the southern region of the District and includes all of DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee and Sarasota counties, and portions of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough and Polk counties. It was established to address water resource concerns including depressed aquifer levels, which cause saltwater intrusion and contribute to reduced flows in the upper Peace River and lowered lake levels in upland Polk and Highlands counties.

Both FARMS and Mini-FARMS programs are public-private partnerships that provide incentives for growers to install and maintain best management practices (BMPs) that promote surface water and groundwater sustainability.

“Mini-FARMS is an excellent way to reach small growers who might be reluctant to apply for larger cost-share programs due to program complexity and time constraints,” said Lynda Garvin, Mini-FARMS program manager for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).

The newly created Mini-FARMS program is designed to assist small acreage growers (100 irrigated acres or less per parcel) on water resource projects that reduce water use, improve water quality or assist in the conservation and restoration of natural systems.

The program will reimburse growers for 85 percent of their costs, up to a maximum of $8,000 of cost-share reimbursement per project. The Mini-FARMS program is currently being implemented by FDACS through the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties. Upon approval of the District’s FY2007 budget, the program will expand projects in these counties.

Projects eligible for the Mini-FARMS program may include soil moisture probes, water table observation wells, water-control structures, weather stations and other water conservation methods approved by the local Soil and Water Conservation District board.

For more information or to receive an application for Mini-FARMS, please contact the FDACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy in Tampa at 1-800-836-0797, ext. 2125, or in Sarasota at 1-800-320-3503, ext. 6570.