A new crop of cooperationEditor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the Feb. 15, 2012, issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

It’s not too often that I talk to a grower who’s actually excited about the specter of more BMPS, or best management practices.

But listen to Danny Johns, a potato grower near Hastings, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

For once, all of the entities involved in agriculture and regulating water quality in the St. Johns River basin in which he farms are working together to further improve the situation.

“This is the first time in all my years in farming that everybody has been at the table,” Johns says. “We’re all at the table talking about how we can improve where we’re at today.

“I’m greatly encouraged by it, because it’s been a real fight for years, and this is a new day and time of working together.”

And they’re taking common sense approaches. Rather than mandating specific cultural practices, for example, regulators within the watershed are allowing the University of Florida, Natural Resources Conservation Service and others to first conduct large-scale trials in growers’ fields.

The idea is to see which technologies are viable, which ones might need tweaking and which ones probably aren’t suitable.

In fact, Johns is hosting one on his farm looking at drip irrigation, tile drainage and a tailwater return system to recycle runoff back to the top of the field.

“I’m really excited about the concept,” Johns says. “To me, it’s win-win, with zero lost runoff. Johns farms in the Lower St. Johns River Basin, which for years has had a basin action plan to address nutrient loading.

The river is designed an American Heritage River under a program signed into law in 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton.

Designated waterways receive special attention from the EPA as far as natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation.

As part of the St. Johns basin plan, the University of Florida worked with growers and other entities to develop nutrient BMPs.

The BMPs have gone a long way to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus running off of farm fields.

“Ninety-eight percent of all lands have first-level BMPs,” Johns says. “Now the question is, what’s the next tier to improve water quality and water quantity.”

As Johns points out, farmers are innovative and eager to adopt new technologies that make sense both for their operations and the environment.

The field trials go a long way to proving that.

Let’s hope this spirit of common sense and cooperation isn’t an exception and will grow to be the norm within the state for agriculture and regulators.