Ag Talk

Beyond Finger-Pointing About Water

Jack Payne

By Jack Payne
[email protected]

I don’t have a problem with people saying agriculture is part of the source of the state’s water quality challenges. I do have a problem when people who know nothing about ag, drop the “part of.”

It’s bad for agriculture’s public image. It’s also bad science.

One way the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is trying to get past the finger-pointing and to set the record straight is by joining the Together Florida campaign. Its core message: Everyone is part of the water quality problem, so everyone needs to be part of the solution.

Nutrients that pollute our water can come from septic tanks, lawns, municipal wastewater systems and stormwater runoff as well as from farms. UF/IFAS and the Florida Farm Bureau belong to this coalition to seek an approach to protecting water quality that addresses all sources of pollutants, not one that singles you out.

For example, two of our water scientists, Mary Lusk and Andrea Albertin, are devoting outreach to educating the public about the harm done by leaky septic tanks.

Florida Sea Grant agent Betty Staugler and UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized water agent and Sea Grant affilate Lisa Krimsky synthesized the input of 75 scientists and last month released a state-of-the-science report on algae blooms. It lays out what we know and, importantly, what we don’t know, like “What is the role of P(hosphorus)?”

It also maps out a research agenda that calls for developing a way to separate the various sources of water pollution. It also calls for determining if practices on the farm – or in the city – will reduce blooms. In other words, let’s figure out what actually works before we mandate it.

No one is better positioned than UF/IFAS to plot a strategic course to find answers to water pollution questions. At the same time, we seek to engage policy makers by providing them with the best information available to help them make decisions now, not a decade from now when we have better science.

Many of you are operating out of the UF/IFAS Best Management Practices (BMP) playbook. With state support for public science we can learn a lot more about how to tailor BMPs by geography, crop, soil type, weather conditions and more.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) deserves a lot of credit for taking the lead on Together Florida. The website includes tools for you to contact your local legislator to support clean water legislation based on science or calls for development of that science.

We help you fight nematodes, crop disease and drought. With the help of the Farm Bureau and FFVA, we’re helping you fight misinformation, too.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.