Gary Reeder Farm
Tomato plants growing at West Coast Tomato farm in Florida © David Royal/TNC

Stories in Florida

4R Farming and Nutrient Stewardship

We’re helping Florida farmers keep harmful nutrients out of our water.

The Nature Conservancy works with farmers in Central and Southwest Florida to support the implementation of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program to promote sustainable and effective fertilizer use to keep nutrients out of our water sources. 

4R Nutrient Stewardship provides a framework to achieve cropping system goals, such as increased production, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

To achieve those goals, the 4R concept incorporates the:

  • Right source - Matches fertilizer type to crop needs.
  • Right rate - Matches amount of fertilizer to crop needs.
  • Right time - Makes nutrients available when crops needs them.
  • Right place - Keeps nutrients where crops can use them.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship program promotes methods that help ensure that nutrients used in farming end up in the plants and not in our fresh water, where they can impair water quality. For sustainable and effective fertilizer use, focusing on the 4R's makes all the difference.

Red potatoes at Jones Farm in Florida. © Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
Potatoes in Florida Red potatoes at Jones Farm in Florida. © FDACS

Conservation Awards for 4R Practices

The Conservancy works closely with hundreds of farms throughout Florida to support the implementation of the 4Rs and other conservation methods to protect natural resources while producing quality crops. Several of the farmers we work with have received conservation awards from the state and other organizations.

Each year The Fertilizer Institute honors farmers who are using innovative and sustainable 4R fertilizer management practices to increase production and reduce their environmental impact. Poorly managed nutrient applications can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air. Now in its seventh year, the 4R Advocate Program has recognized 35 agricultural producers and retailers in 19 states. Florida has produced a winner of the 4R Advocate Award the past three years in a row. 

Plant City strawberry grower Fancy Farms, owned and operated by father and son team Carl and Dustin Grooms, received the 2019 4R Advocate Award, as one of the nation’s top five farmers in the country to receive this prestigous honor. As a 4R supporter, Fancy Farms uses cutting edge technology including soil moisture probes and leaf tissue sampling to make adjustments to the amount of fertilizer used on their strawberry crops. 

Fancy Farms Strawberry Growers
Fancy Farms Carl and Dustin Grooms, strawberry growers from Plant City, Florida. © Fancy Farms

Beck Brothers Citrus in Windermere, Florida received the 4R Advocate Award in 2017. “That glass of orange juice you had this morning might’ve been a result of their hard work,” said David Royal, The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Nutrient Stewardship Project Manager. 

Gary Reeder of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, Florida won the prestigous 4R Advocate Award in 2017. 

Jones Potato Farm in Parrish, Florida won the 2016 Commissioners Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award as well as a Grower Achievement Award from American Vegetable Grower. In 2013 Jones was honored with the 4R Advocate Award, the first Florida farmer to win the award.

Florida Orange Trees
Beck Brothers Citrus Orange trees growing in Florida © David Royal/TNC

Florida’s agricultural industry is a driving force of our state’s economy, employing 1.5 million people. Florida agriculture supports the economy with $8.5 billion in cash crops and $4 billion in agricultural commodities exports.

As stewards of 9.45 million acres of land, Florida farmers must balance the demands of production with conservation concerns. Farmers contend with their irrigation needs—agriculture is one of the biggest water consumers—while conserving soils, supporting water quality, minimizing their water usage and protecting landscapes. The Conservancy helps them by ensuring best management practices are used to support conservation and to prevent harmful nutrients from entering our water.