Long rows of tomato plants with sandy pathways between them. Each plant is supported by a wooden stake.
Tomato Farm Tomato plants 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, supported by The Mosaic Company, to promote sustainable and effective fertilizer use to keep nutrients out of our water sources. 

What Are the 4Rs?

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 piled on top of each other, filling the field of view.
Potatoes Red potatoes at Jones Farm in Florida. © FDACS

Conservation Awards for 4R Practices

TNC 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 four years in a row. 

The 2020 4R Advocate Award winner is Hundley Farms, a third-generation family farm located in Belle Glade, Florida. The Hundley family started farming in 1935 in the Everglades Agricultural Area, one of the larger contiguous bodies of organic soil in the world. The region is the primary source of winter vegetables for the eastern United States. The Hundleys are known for their progressive operations and are always willing to try new practices to help increase production and reduce environmental impact. They share their 4R Advocate award with their retail partner Wedgworth’s Inc., working with Hundley Farms to plan and implement sound nutrient management practices. Together they yield a sustainable and bountiful harvest on over 20,000 acres with sweet corn, green beans, radishes, rice, peanuts, cabbage and collard greens.

Two Florida farmers in a field of collard greens. One man is holding up a collard leaf above his head and the other is pointing at something on the leaf.
Field of Greens 4R Advocate Award winners from Florida Eric Hopkins (Hundley Farms) and Tim Stein (Wedgworth’s, Inc.) inspect a collard green leaf. © Steve Woit

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 prestigious 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. 

A smiling farmer sits on a red, vintage tractor in front of an old barn, while another farmer with a big white beard  stands next to the tractor leaning his arm on it.
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 2018. “That glass of orange juice you had this morning might’ve been a result of their hard work,” said David Royal, TNC’s Florida Nutrient Stewardship Project Manager. 

Gary Reeder of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, Florida won the prestigious 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.

Closeup of an orange tree with dark green leaves, small white flowers and some ripe oranges.
Beck Brothers Citrus Orange trees growing in Florida © David Royal/TNC

Farmers are Stewards of the Land

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. TNC helps them by ensuring best management practices are used to support conservation and to prevent harmful nutrients from entering our water.