Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 11, Issue 2 - December, 2018

Editor: Lee Stivers

Extension Education Enhances Knowledge and Use of Nursery Plant Production BMPS

Yeager, T. , Extension Nursery Crop Specialist, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
Campoverde, E., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County
Felter, L., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Multi-County
Gazula, A., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County
Glenn, M., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County
Harlow, E., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Duval County
Hinton, J., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Multi-County
Holmes, D., Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension Marion County
Lollar, M., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Seminole County
McAvoy, C., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Multi-County
Popenoe, J., Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension Lake County
Skvarch, E., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County
Steed, S., Extension Educator, UF/IFAS Extension Multi-County
Wiggins, Z., Extension Educator, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Gadsden County

ABSTRACT

A revised manual of nursery plant production Best Management Practices (BMPs) was adopted by rule (Chapter 6) of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Division of Agricultural Water Policy in 2014. This provided an educational opportunity for Extension to help production nursery personnel understand how to implement and use BMPs focused on irrigation management. The educational events conducted included general education, demonstrations, workshops focused on using container leaching fraction (LF) to achieve appropriate irrigation application amounts, and training regarding the use of an app that determines daily irrigation application amounts for container-grown plants. Participants provided feedback regarding their gain in knowledge about implementation and use of BMPs. Increase in knowledge gain ranged from 55% for general educational events about irrigation to 26% for workshops about LF. Follow-up with general educational event participants regarding their implementaion of BMPs revealed that seven respondents had implemented at least seven different BMPs. The results indicate the importance of educational events for production nursery personnel.


INTRODUCTION

The Florida Watershed Restoration Act of 1999 provided that Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for impaired waters in the state. TMDLs are used to provide a guide for the amount of nutrients or contaminates a waterbody can assimilate. Contaminates from agricultural production are nonpoint sources, therefore the approach taken in Florida was to encourage the use of best management practices (BMP) to minimize agriculture’s environmental impact. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), in cooperation with FDEP, initiated the BMP program for agricultural operations in Florida. BMPs are technologically and economically feasible production practices that protect ground and surface water quality as well as conserve water. BMPs are usually research-based practices that have been tested and verified as effective. Agricultural producers who voluntarily implement BMPs are granted a presumption of water quality compliance. Alternatively, producers can monitor ground and surface water quality and report the results to FDEP if the agricultural operation is located in a watershed where a Basin Management Action Plan has been established to achieve the TMDL.  

The BMPs used by producers are selected from a list found in the manual titled Water Quality/Quantity Best Management Practices for Florida Nurseries (FDACS, 2014). Producers sign a Notice of Intent (NOI) to implement commodity-specific BMPs as well as general BMPs that are applicable to all commodities. The BMPs selected by the producer become a part of the NOI and the NOI is filed with FDACS as formal enrollment in the BMP program administered by FDACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy (OAWP). There is also the option to commit to implementation of additional BMPs in the future. Those are usually BMPs that require infrastructure changes. Cost share funds may be available from state and federal agencies to defray some of the costs of BMPs. At the end of 2016, there were 1,358 nurseries and 37,838 acres (15,313 ha) of nursery crops enrolled in the BMP program (H. Edmond, FDACS OAWP, personal communication, Jan. 12, 2017). In 2015 and 2016 alone, there were 173 new enrollments that represented 9,700 acres (3,926 ha) or approximately 25% of the acres enrolled since inception.

Prior to the revision of the manual initiated in 2013, FDACS surveyed nursery personnel enrolled in the BMP program. One important conclusion gleaned from the data (M. Mealo, FDACS OAWP, personal communication, Nov. 16, 2012) was that producers needed assistance with implementation of some BMPs. The same conclusion was also reached by Extension personnel who work directly with nursery personnel. Hence, Extension’s objectives were to increase and focus efforts on education regarding BMPs for use by nursery plant producers and assess knowledge gains or attitudes of the producers. To accomplish the objectives, general education, demonstrations, and workshops were conducted. General education focused on an array of BMPs producers might implement, while demonstrations and workshops focused on specific topics.

Million and Yeager (2015a) had developed a web-based evapotranspiration-based irrigation management tool called Container Irrigation (CIRRIG) that determines daily amounts of irrigation water to apply based on container plant production parameters and weather obtained on-site. Therefore, this technology was a likely choice for demonstrating a new BMP as an integral part of extension programming.

Another technology involved the remediation of runoff from watering stations. A watering station is composed of a shower-like structure that applies a large volume of water quickly as a wagon of recently planted containers passes under the water. Because remediation was a new BMP for watering stations and could require some infrastructure changes, it was an excellent topic for an extension demonstration.

Other education was delivered as workshops, primarily conducted on nursery sites and focused on use of leaching fraction (LF) or a mobile application for guiding irrigation application amounts, each of which involved hands-on engagement by participants. LF is a test (Million and Yeager, 2015b) for determining the appropriate amount of irrigation water to apply. LF is the amount of container leachate or drainage collected during irrigation as a percentage of the amount of irrigation water that entered the container. Adjusting irrigation to achieve a LF that “does not exceed 15%” is the BMP for most crops (FDACS, 2014). Additionally, an alternative for guiding irrigation was a mobile device app developed to provide producers another tool for achieving the BMP of applying the appropriate amount of irrigation. The app was similar to CIRRIG, but used real-time weather obtained from the Florida Automated Weather Network rather than weather downloaded at the nursery site.

 

METHODS

The first author conducted a meeting with county extension educators in each of the five Extension Districts in Florida (http://ded.ifas.ufl.edu/districts_map.shtml). Personnel who participated received an introduction to the newly revised manual of BMPs and educational priorities were discussed. Extension education that was focused on irrigation management was conducted at several locations in the state during 2013 – 2016. A summary of the educational efforts follows from general education to demonstrations and workshops.

General Extension Education. Seven events were conducted that focused on irrigation management with emphasis on helping producers understand and implement BMPs appropriate for their production. The events were predominately conducted at nurseries in cooperation with extension educators who organized and taught about irrigation BMPs in a meeting or classroom format. Representatives from Water Management Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and FDACS were usually available at the educational events to answer questions about the cost share monies available for implementing BMPs. Mobile Irrigation Lab personnel were often available to answer questions about the irrigation system evaluation service they offer.

A pre- and post-questionnaire was developed for the educational events and adapted by county extension educators to fit local needs. Also, in the summer of 2018, a follow-up survey to access BMPs implemented or planned to be implemented was sent to 14 participants from three general educational events. Participants surveyed were believed to be affiliated with the same business as when the educational event was conducted. Furthermore, information was obtained from FDACS OAWP regarding the number of commitments to implement irrigation BMPs during 2012 – 2016 in Duval, Hillsborough, Lake, Marion, Miami-Dade, Orange, and St. Lucie counties that were locations for general educational events.

Another important component of the general extension educational focus that would assist plant production personnel was the development of videos that demonstrated how to implement or use BMPs in the revised manual. For example, a video was developed on how to conduct soil fertility tests and maintain fertilization application records. Most video content was filmed at nurseries; scripts were written and narrated by the first author of this paper, and edited and compiled for final production by UF/IFAS video staff. Each of the 13-video links is provided in the electronic text of the revised manual (FDACS, 2014).

Extension Demonstrations. The use of CIRRIG was evaluated in a nursery demonstration site in central Florida where two identical 0.5-acre (0.2 ha) areas with the same container plants were sprinkler irrigated. The irrigation of one area was controlled by the nursery manager’s common practice of making a daily decision regarding the amount of irrigation water to apply (control). The irrigation of the other identical area (test) was controlled using output from CIRRIG. CIRRIG’s daily output was the sprinkler operation run time in minutes. This output was electronically conveyed to the irrigation solenoid via a Programmable Logic Controller. The amount of water applied to each area was metered and plant sizes were measured.

Demonstration sites at two cooperating nurseries, one in north Florida and one in central Florida, were also established to provide examples of how to mitigate runoff from a watering station. At a nursery in north Florida, a retention wall that slowed the movement of runoff was constructed in the ditch that conveyed runoff (Figure 1a) and a basin constructed down flow to detain nutrient-laden runoff (Figure 1b). At a nursery in central Florida, a concrete pad was installed to collect and channel runoff via a pipe to a grassed area (Figure 2). An educational event for nursery personnel was conducted at both locations so participants could see two possibilities for complying with the new BMP.

 

Figure 1a. Vertical concrete pillars with slots for securing boards were constructed on each side of ditch. Boards were placed vertically in slots to retain or slow the conveyance of runoff as it moved down the ditch and away from watering station. Photo credit: T. Yeager, UF/IFAS

 

Figure 1b. A basin to detain nutrient-laden runoff was constructed down flow from retention wall. Photo credit: T. Yeager, UF/IFAS

 

Figure 2. Concrete pad was constructed below nozzles at watering station. Runoff flows through grate and into channel on right side of pad. Runoff in channel is transported via pipe toward production area and exits on grass. Photo credit: T. Yeager, UF/IFAS

 

Extension Workshops.The previously described CIRRIG demonstration focused on a technological tool that can be used to achieve the BMP of applying appropriate amounts of irrigation water to container-grown plants. An alternative tool or LF was the subject of three initial workshops at container nurseries. Two subsequent workshops were also conducted. One was conducted at a UF/IFAS Research and Education Center and the other conducted at a nursery.

Another tool or mobile device irrigation app was the subject of three irrigation workshops that were conducted at cooperating nurseries. Prior to each workshop, registrants downloaded an iOS or Android test version of the app to their mobile device. In a classroom setting established at each nursery, participants learned how to select appropriate inputs and interpret outputs using the app. Subsequently, participants moved to a field location where inputs from field conditions were acquired and entered. The app output or irrigation operation time was compared to the nurseries’ current irrigation operation time for that field and used as a basis for discussing and understanding how input parameters impact the output.

 

RESULTS

General Extension Education. The responses (n=97) to questionnaires from all educational events indicated an increase in knowledge after participating in an event, regardless of the specific questions asked. The questionnaires used at four locations contained the same pre- and post-question about their knowledge of factors affecting irrigation application efficiency and how to measure them. Factors that affect application efficiency are given as BMPs in the manual. Participants (n=68) responding to that question exhibited a 55% increase in knowledge after the events. Results from the follow-up survey are given in Table 1. The results indicate that twelve different BMPs were implemented after participating in the educational events and at least seven BMPs were implemented by each of the seven resondents. Six BMPs were planned for implementation.

 

Table 1. Follow-up survey responses in 2018 for participants of general educational events about Best Management Practices (BMPs). Events were conducted 2013 – 2015 in central Florida. Seven of fourteen participants surveyed noted which BMPs they had implemented or planned to implement since the educational events. 

 Container Nursery and Greenhouse Practices

Implemented

(No.)

Plan to  

  Implement  

(No.)   

 Space containers and flats as close as possible. 7 0
 Group plants of similar irrigation needs together. 7 0
 Irrigate based on determination of plant need. 7 0
 Calculate the leachate fraction. It does not exceed 15 percent. 2 1
 Use pulse or cyclic irrigation. 7 0
 Manage irrigation runoff to minimize discharge and leaching. 5 0
 Test irrigation source water quality annually. 3 2
 Determine irrigation uniformity at least every three years. 5 1
 Ensure water holding capacity of substrate is 45% of volume. 4 1
 Use micro-irrigation for 7- gallon and larger containers. 5 0
 Water when temperature and winds minimize water loss. 7 0
 Install and maintain automatic rain shutoff devices. 0 2
 Watering station runoff is mitigated. 2 1

 

Information obtained from FDACS OAWP regarding the commitments to implement BMPs is given in Table 2. The information presented in Table 2 represents commitments to implement BMPs in the manual used prior to 2014 and the revised manual availabe in 2014. Only BMPs in each manual with the same intended outcomes were selected for Table 2. The availability of a revised manual in 2014 likely contributed to the large number of commitments; however, this was a time when extension educators were very active conducting education and promoting BMPs. For example, four of the seven general educational events were conducted in 2014, two in 2013 and one in 2015. Responses to the follow-up survey (Table 1) provide a direct link for BMP implementation and participation in extension education with five of thirteen BMPs implemented by all responents.

 

Table 2. Total number of commitments to implement irrigation Best Management Practices (BMPs) for 2012 – 2016 in Duval, Hillsborough, Lake, Marion, Miami-Dade, Orange, and St. Lucie counties Florida.   

 Container Nursery and Greenhouse Practices Number of Commitments to Implement
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
 Space containers and flats as close as possible. 13 12 38 32 20
 Group plants of similar irrigation needs together. 23 20 47 32 20
 Irrigate based on determination of plant need. 23 21 46 31 20
 Calculate the leachate fraction. It does not exceed 15 percent. 23 20 40 20 18
 Use pulse or cyclic irrigation. 16 16 39 29 19
 Manage irrigation runoff to minimize discharge and leaching. 5 10 27 27 17
 Use micro-irrigation for 7- gallon and larger containers. 8 8 15 20 7
 Water when temperature and winds minimize water loss. 21 13 37 31 18
 Install and maintain automatic rain shutoff devices. 10 5 24 22 14

 

Extension Demonstrations. At a nursery in central Florida, the plant growth and water applied using CIRRIG (test) was compared to that for plants grown with standard nursery practices (control). At the end of the six-month evaluation, plant growth was similar for the test and control plants but 20% less water was applied to the plants when irrigation amount was determined with CIRRIG. Representative plants from each group were transported to Gainesville where educational facilities were available. Sixteen participants at the educational event engaged in discussion following the presentation about the use of CIRRIG, then viewed representative plants. Seven participants completed a questionnaire and all indicated they would consider using a weather-based irrigation scheduling tool such as CIRRIG that outputs daily irrigation run times based on plant water requirement. 

A new BMP requires producers to mitigate runoff from a watering station so two demonstration sites were established where the runoff could be mitigated differently. The purpose of the sites was to provide on-site examples of how to mitigate runoff from a watering station as seen in a video titled Nursery Best Management Practices - Watering Stations. The video may be viewed at http://hort.ufl.edu/people/thomas-yeager/thomas-yeager-videos/. The video was part of the education conducted at each site along with a presentation about the importance of implementing this new BMP for the purpose of minimizing the impact of nursery runoff on waters off-site. Nineteen people participated in the educational events and they received a schematic of the mitigation feature, and construction specifications that were used to implement the BMP were discussed.   

Extension Workshops. During each workshop, an overview of how to conduct the LF procedure was presented to nursery plant producers along with how to use the results to adjust irrigation operation duration to achieve the desired LF. A hands-on exercise was conducted where participants learned how to conduct the procedure in the field. A summary of knowledge gained from the workshops was assessed by pre- (n=38) and post- (n=32) testing using multiple choice questions and indicated an overall change of 26%. Specific topics where knowledge gain increased at least 26% dealt with participant's understanding of 1) evapotranspiration, 2) measuring container plant water use, and 3) achieving the desired percentage of irrigation that drains from the container. In two subsequent workshops, 75% (n=16) and 88% (n=8) of participants indicated they would use LF.

Workshops were also conducted where participants used an irrigation app to determine the irrigation operation duration for a container nursery crop. Because the app had not been released for public use at the time of the workshops, participants provided feedback on the usefulness and functionality. A post questionnaire indicated that 94% of participants (n=17) were interested in exploring further use of this app. The app titled ET-based Irrigation Scheduling Tool for Container Nurseries will be available from iOS and Android outlets.

 

DISCUSSION

Society is asking agriculture to invoke a higher level of production responsibility (Auburn, 1994) and the information described in this paper exemplifies the educational approach of extension to help nurseries in Florida engage BMPs. The authors used several approaches to deliver education that included a meeting or classroom format for general education, field demonstrations for learning about new production strategies, and workshops for engaging new irrigation tools, in addition to considerable learning about BMPs through one-on-one or electronic communication. The education was conducted to help producers understand change that is needed to conserve water resources and protect and improve ground and surface water quality, while having minimal adverse impact on plant production. The changes are conceptualized as BMPs.

Sometimes there is justifiable skepticism about whether the BMPs are effective and functional. Ultimately, we believe the deliberation between skepticism and full-scale implementation and use is an important process that will lead to more acres committed to BMPs. Extension personnel respect skepticism that provides important feedback during the contemplation process and must continue to nurture and help this process if plant producers are to adopt practices that use technologically and economically feasible BMPs to minimize impact on Florida’s natural environment.

Change to more sustainable practices or practices that minimize impact on the environment has been an ongoing process in most of agricultural production regardless of geographic region. There is no recipe or prescription to invoke change and there probably should not be, because agricultural production systems are very diverse, particularly from region to region. However, incentives might be used to bring about or foster change (Williams, 1990). Incentives have been used in agriculture for many years. For example, the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) Approved Projects - Conservation Reserve Program of the United States Department of Agriculture incentivizes the use of land for wildlife in various locations (Anonymous, 2015).

Extension personnel facilitate the incentive-based changes of the BMP outcomes by providing education to help producers implement and use BMPs. As noted for the follow-up with participants of three general educational events, 100% of respondents implemented seven or more BMPs. Nurseries that commit to use BMPs for production are granted a presumption of water quality compliance by the state meaning 1) they receive a waiver of ground and surface water cleanup liability imposed by the state, and 2) they are exempt from water quality monitoring if located in a watershed where the natural waters are impaired. In addition, producers using BMPs are eligible for cost share monies to implement new technologies and efficiencies.

Change is more likely to occur if there is an understanding (education) of why change is needed, what the change entails (costs), and what incentives are available. For the nursery plant producers referred to in this paper, a presumed compliance with water quality standards was an incentive that was more likely to result in change if coupled with education (Williams, 1990). The Extension personnel provided education to help clientele understand 1) why change was needed, 2) what options for change were available, and 3) what impacts or outcomes would result from change. This progression of understanding can be applied to any situation where change must be encouraged and navigated by Extension.

The Extension educational events were conducted in response to a need for producers to engage the provisions of The Florida Watershed Restoration Act. This legislation created an opportunity for extension educators to help producers understand and implement research-based practices. Yet, extension educators had to realize that producers perceived this legislation as regulation, which could result in opposition. However, as educators we must navigate forward and exhibit leadership. Some important components of that leadership are; 1) knowledge about the legislation, 2) unbiased communication, and 3) an advocate who understands that science-based research implemented by the agricultural producers will achieve the legislative intent or outcomes.

 

 CONCLUSIONS

The educational events provided by extension educators and relationships developed between extension educators and producers are crucial for nurturing the implementation and use of BMPs. While a direct link between educational event participation and enrollments in the BMP program during 2015 – 2016 cannot be determined, 25% of the acreage enrolled since inception occurred during that time. It is worthy to note that at one educational event all of the non-enrolled participants (five) indicated they would enroll in the BMP program. In addtiion, educational event participants increased their knowlege about BMPs and follow-up with participants of three events revealed that twelve different BMPs were implemented since the events. Extension educators have in the past and will continue to have a key role in providing education for production nursery personnel engaging BMPs.

 

LITERATURE CITED

Anonymous. (2015). State acres for wildlife enhancement (SAFE) approved projects - conservation reserve program. Conservation Fact Sheet. USDA Farm Service Agency. Retrieved from: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/archived-fact-sheets/safe2015_jul2015.pdf

Auburn, J.S. (1994). Society pressures farmers to adopt more sustainable systems. California Agriculture, 48(5):7-10.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, FDACS. (2014). Water quality/quantity best management practices for Florida nurseries. DACS-P-01267. Retrieved from:http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/37570/848371/NurseryBMP.pdf

Million, J.B. and Yeager, T.H. (2015a). CIRRIG: Weather-based irrigation management program for container nurseries. HortTechnology, 25(4): 528-535.

Million, J. and Yeager, T. (2015b). Monitoring leaching fraction for irrigation scheduling in container nurseries.  UF/IFAS Extension publication ENH1268. Retrieved from: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP52900.pdf

Williams, J.R. (1990). Social traps and incentives: Implications for low-input, sustainable agriculture. J. Soil and Water Cons., 45(1): 28-30.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Financial support was provided from UF/IFAS Extension, FDACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy, Southwest Florida Water Management District (project B291), and Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. We thank Mark Mealo (FDACS Office of Agricultural Water Policy) for his assistance. University of Florida Institutional Review Board Proposal 201801643