By Carole Estes, FARMS Manager, Southwest Florida Water Management District
Q: What is FARMS?
A: The Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems, or FARMS for short, is a program designed to serve as an incentive to the agricultural community to promote water quantity, water quality and natural systems best management practices (BMPs) to conserve groundwater use and promote resource sustainability. The program is an agricultural cost-share reimbursement program that reduces groundwater withdrawals from the Upper Floridan aquifer through conservation and alternative water supply BMPs. Water quality and natural systems improvement BMPs also may be cost-shared in priority areas in conjunction with water conservation BMPs. The program is a public/private partnership developed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in 2003.
Q: What is a best management practice, or BMP, and what does that look like for FARMS?
A: Best management practices are methods that have been determined to be the most effective and practical means for improving water conservation and quality in agricultural discharges. Examples of commonly used BMPs for FARMS include surface water pump stations, water control structures, automatic irrigation controls, soil moisture sensors and weather stations.
Q: What are some of the benefits to the water resources through the FARMS program?
A: Implementing agricultural BMPs provide many water resource benefits, including reduction of groundwater withdrawals from the Upper Floridan aquifer, improvement of ground and/or surface water quality impacted by groundwater withdrawals, applied nutrient reduction or retention and improved natural system functions within wetlands and watersheds. Approved projects support the district’s Regional Water Supply Plan, Southern Water Use Caution Area or SWUCA Recovery Strategy, Strategic Plan and Springs Management Plans.
Q: How much water has been offset through the FARMS program?
A: From the inception of the FARMS program in 2003 through 2023, the total projected groundwater offset from the more than 240 approved FARMS projects is 31.5 million gallons of water per day at an overall average cost-benefit of $2.43 per thousand gallons of water offset.
Q: As a member of the agricultural community, how do you qualify for FARMS funding?
A: If you are a member of the agricultural community and have a district water-use permit, you can apply for FARMS funding. To qualify for funding, projects must be located in the district and include one or more of the following BMP strategies: utilize an alternative water supply or technology to reduce groundwater use, improve irrigation water quality and watershed ecology by reducing reliance on poorer quality groundwater and reduce nutrient applications or increase nutrient retention. The FARMS program may reimburse a grower up to 50 percent of the total project costs. Some projects may qualify for up to 75 percent reimbursement of total project costs based on the water resource benefits and the project location.
To learn more about the FARMS program, visit the district’s website at www.watermatters.org/farms or contact the district at 941-404-1452.