As concerns grow over the ability of the Upper Floridan Aquifer to keep up with demands for water from residents, farms and forests, four universities are teaming up to look at the economic sustainability of agriculture and forestry in north Florida and south Georgia that rely on this water supply.
The Upper Floridan Aquifer supports agricultural activities worth more than $7.5 billion and provides drinking water to 10 million people, said Puneet Dwivedi, assistant professor of sustainability sciences at UGA. “But it is facing significant threats to water quality and quantity, which could potentially harm food security, fiber production and vital ecosystem services,” he said.
The researchers will focus on developing new best management practices and increasing farmers’ adoption of existing best practices, leading to reduced water use and improved water quality in the aquifer.
UGA researchers are collaborating with scientists from three other universities on the five-year, $5 million project. Led by the University of Florida Water Institute, UGA will partner with Auburn University and Albany State University on the study, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. UGA will receive $1.2 million of the total grant funding.
Dwivedi is leading the UGA team, which includes researchers from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences: George Vellidis, professor of crop and soil sciences; Wes Porter, assistant professor of crop and soil sciences; Amanda Smith, public service associate in agricultural and applied economics; and Carrie Furman, anthropologist and assistant research scientist of crop and soil sciences.
Researchers from all four universities will conduct experiments to develop farming practices that reduce water use and fertilizer loss while still resulting in a profitable crop yield. Researchers from Florida and Auburn University will then create computer models that can predict the impacts of various land and water uses.
At UGA, Dwivedi will develop a model for understanding how the adoption of best management practices will change the current land use in the study area and the consequences of such changes on water quality and quantity.
Vellidis will develop best management practices that will optimize the use of water and fertilizers for the region’s major crops.
Porter will work with farmers to promote advanced irrigation scheduling methods for improving water use efficiency of crops, including the development of an irrigation app.
Smith will be responsible for the creation and revision of new and existing farm-level budgets to address how changes to best management practices affect costs at the farm level within the region. Furman will research and document learning and communication between farmers and project members.