The Mosaic Company, in partnership with academia and a global NGO, has invested in a program to introduce technology to farmers in Florida, United States, to maximize the impact of water and fertilizer inputs. Soil probes and digital dashboards offer real-time access to soil salinity and moisture data so farmers can make more informed decisions about water and fertilizer applications – with benefits for both the farmer and the environment. Mosaic and its partners plan to scale the program to other regions to promote the technology and best management practices for nutrient stewardship and irrigation management.
The Mosaic Company, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF IFAS) Extension, has invested in a program in Southwest Florida that advises farmers and ranchers about best management practices for nutrient and irrigation applications.
Florida’s agricultural industry, which produces more than 300 agricultural crops and contributes billions of dollars annually to the state’s economic base, must share the state’s limited water resources with other industries and a rapidly growing population. Headquartered in Florida, Mosaic invests in global partnerships that address water conservation and nutrient stewardship – helping maximize the impact of water and fertilizer inputs to support sustainable food production.
With funding from Mosaic, the TNC and UF IFAS Extension project introduced a soil probe program using in-field soil moisture probe technology to support a farmer’s decision-making processes around water and fertilizer applications. In real time, the technology, which is tailored for the specific crop the farmer is growing, provides knowledge of soil salinity and moisture. This data is especially helpful in the humid subtropical climate of Florida, which has distinct dry and rainy seasons, characterized by sporadic rain, or warm, humid conditions with frequent showers and thunderstorms.
In practice, the dashboard may communicate to a farmer that the crops are within an acceptable moisture range and the farmers can wait to irrigate, particularly with heavy rains in the forecast. Optimizing irrigation helps enable nutrient management in the soil because farmers are minimizing the extent to which they may overapply water that pushes nutrients away from the rootzone, resulting in benefits for the environment and the farmer. After a brief training by TNC or extension agents to orient the farmer to the dashboards and the data they house, the farmer is ready to use the insights to inform decisions about when and how to apply water and fertilizer to their fields. Farmers, extension agents, and TNC all have access to the digital dashboards and the data the probes store; the groups collaborate regularly during the demonstration period to ensure the technology is working as expected.
Many of the participating farmers were initially recruited to use the probes through UF IFAS “Field Days,” or on-farm events where industry partners and farmers gather to network and share best practices and the latest research-based recommendations related to precision agriculture, nutrient and water management, and other topics. To date, several hundred farmers throughout Florida have implemented the probes with overall increased access to water and fertilizer information.
The goal of this program is for farmers to learn how to use the probes and implement best practices for nutrient stewardship and irrigation management. After a growing season of using the soil moisture probes, farmers can then decide whether to invest in their own probes and accompanying dashboards for their operation. TNC and other nutrient stewardship program partners are scaling the training to other regions to improve resource use by even more growers.