Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend two different meetings of representatives of the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association (FGCSA).
The first meeting was with the Board of Directors of FGCSA at their winter board meeting in Amelia Island on September 30th. That visit resulted from a discussion I had with the FGCSA’s Executive Committee about the funding prospects for EREF. Over the last year or so, the EREF board has been looking at various options on how to improve stakeholder involvement and financial support for EREF. We discussed those options with each of our major stakeholders, including the FGCSA, and garnered a lot of good information from them about the workings of their organization and their industry, as well as about the funding options under consideration. As part of that discussion, I was able to provide an update that framed EREF historically, and in terms of what it expects of its future. This was a great example of how even long-time allies can benefit from ongoing communications and personal interaction. The Board was an impressive group and I was very grateful for their warm and professional treatment.
On October 24th, I was invited by Dan Elchert of the FGCSA’s Palm Beach Chapter to go to Jupiter and give a water-policy and advocacy presentation to their joint meeting with the Treasure Coast Chapter. The bad news was that I had to follow a fantastic presentation by Greg Pheneger of Johns Island Club and the FGCSA ‘s Government Affairs director. I got to know Greg through years together at the Florida Turfgrass Association and he is a veteran of numerous efforts to improve relationships and policy outcomes with local governments around the state as they pertain to golf and the larger green industry. His practical and disciplined approach toward involvement and advocacy is THE blueprint for the industry. As much of this stuff as I also do, I learned new and nuanced approaches from Greg’s talk.
During the joint meeting, I provided an overview of the increasingly active efforts of local governments in bringing restrictive “blackout” fertilizer ordinances back to the table (Citrus and Seminole Counties currently) and what EREF and others were doing to address those efforts. In addition, I reminded the group that there are many entry points for unfriendly policy – on water use (permitting and pumpage limitations), on landscape design (restrictive plant lists, limited turf footprints, turf variety limitations), on chemical use (glyphosate restrictions), as well as on nutrient management. For example, how would a Paspalum-only mandate grab you? The conclusion that both Greg and I shared in our presentations is that we have a great story to tell, that many outside of our industries are unaware of the great work we do on environmental and natural resource protection, and that we are going to have to be increasingly active in getting that message out.
Going back to the benefits of ongoing communications, I took some questions after the Palm Beach / Treasure Coast meeting and was advised that EREF’s conditional willingness to support a winter fertilizer ban as being more consistent with recent research was NOT a general position that the FGCSA could agree with. I had to confess that EREF was not making it clear that this was a position relative only to residential turf management coming out of the FDEP / UF-IFAS studies on St. Augustine and Zoysia nutrient leaching, and that it must be accompanied by a professional lawn care exemption. It was healthy for me to be reminded that winter is prime time for our golf allies and that winter nutrient management is critical, is highly managed and protective of the environment, and is their particular specialty. Suffice it to say that EREF’s communications will make this important distinction more clearly going forward. My special thanks to Christy Lyle and Steve Wright for getting me lined up on this!
I will say again that it was great to have these opportunities to spend time with our golf allies and I hope to get some more of them.
Many municipalities in Florida have adopted restrictive fertilizer ordinances that are unsubstantiated by science. It is encouraging that some municipalities are now adopting ordinances that restrict use of fertilizers during winter months rather than during active growth seasons. Both UF/IFAS Extension and Florida’s water management districts offer education regarding ordinances applicable in their service regions in which the ultimate goal is to provide non-biased science based education that supports optimal landscape performance with minimal inputs. There are many facets of a fertilizer education campaign. Campaigns that focus primarily on skipping fertilizer miss the opportunity to educate consumers on applying proper amounts at the right time using proper application methods. Improper application during any period including non-restricted periods can contribute to ecosystem contamination. Summer ban campaigns also fail to educate citizens on the physiological nutritional needs of plants during active growth to remain dense healthy stands which in turn reduce erosion, runoff and leaching.
Although, other nutrient sources such as Iron (helps with Nitrogen metabolism and chlorophyll synthesis hence the temporary greening), Potassium, Magnesium and Manganese can help plants get through periods of stress and times of potential disease pressure, the point is to manage plant growth appropriately to reduce stress that may cause thin and unhealthy stands resulting in increased erosion, runoff and disease.
Although, there is little question that improperly applied lawn and garden fertilizers can potentially contribute to ecosystem contamination, other nutrient sources represent the greatest nitrate contributors to surface and groundwater contamination. These include: waste water treatment plants, livestock/poultry wastes, fossil fuel emissions, septic systems and domestic animal wastes as well as lawn clippings and leaves left or blown into the street and entering storm drains. Citizens should be educated on all possible nutrient source contributors and actions they can take to help reduce all sources.
Over irrigation is also attributed to soil erosion and runoff from landscapes. Many citizens don’t know how much rain has fallen or understand how to adjust irrigation systems to account for rainfall and evapotranspiration. Efforts to encourage citizens to adopt smart irrigation controllers and soil moisture sensors would be a positive measure toward reducing erosion and runoff. Since soils in this region are phosphate available, efforts to reduce erosion will reduce algae blooms which when they die can cause fresh water eutrophication.
To truly help address these issues effectively, citizens need to be educated regarding all potential ecosystem contamination sources and actions that they can take to protect the waters. The best possible outcomes can be achieved by all stakeholder groups working together to promote legitimate science-based management practices and promoting citizen education regarding all nutrient source ecosystem contamination contributors and alternative corrective actions and strategies.
Commercial Hort / IPM / Small Farms Agent
UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County
Over the years, the Green Industries have been subjected to some pretty egregious (and false) accusations. None has been more harmful than associating agriculture and urban greenspaces with a causal connection to occurrences of K. brevis (the species of red tide observed from time to time along Florida’s Gulf Coast). These outbreaks of K. brevis red tide carry the potential to be very serious to human health and comfort near the coast, to result in significant fish kills, and to otherwise create costs and nuisance for the residents and local governments in impacted areas. In media reports and elsewhere, some activists have asserted a causal link between the water from farms and urban landscapes and red tide blooms off the Gulf Coast. The science simply does not support this (but the urban myth persists). Here is what Mote Marine Laboratory, the leading expert on Florida Red Tide, has to say about what causes red tide:
In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis. Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth
In a study by the University of South Florida, researchers concluded that the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current – not the water from the Lake Okeechobee releases – was a “determining factor” in red tide:
In a recently completed study comparing data collected on the 2012 red tide season, which was particularly robust, compared to the 2013 season, which was not, the scientists found that the coastal ocean circulation on the West Florida Continental Shelf – highly dependent on the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current – was a determining factor in the greatly differing red tide occurrences. Their paper describing this research was recently published in the journal Continental Shelf Research.
Source: University of South Florida, “University of South Florida Researchers Discover Ways to Improve Red Tide Predictions”
These findings are very helpful and can hopefully, eventually, undo some of the damage done.
I recently observed the anniversary of the passing of my father, Howard Carraway. Dad was originally a newspaper man of the old school, which is to say that he actually practiced journalism. He was simultaneously a businessman, operating a printing business in his homeland of South Carolina until he moved his young family to Fort Pierce, Florida in early 1959. There, he continued his business, and worked for The News Tribune as an investigative reporter and as a writer of a column called Cracker Barrel. It was something we would think of as a lifestyle column today, in which he reflected on all manner of things, including the natural beauty of Florida’s interior, as you will see below.
Dad was all about personal freedom and personal responsibility, and bridled at intrusive government. It is not ironic at all that he could have that kind of sensibility and still appreciate what many of us love about Florida – its natural places. Sounds like most of the people I know in the Green Industries. It is personally insulting to me (and probably to you too) that there are people who would condemn the urban landscape as anathema to those natural places. Let me just say that’s just crazy talk. And even in 1959, Dad saw the complete compatibility of the two.
I am proud to share this with you, because I believe you will find his writing to be special, and his storytelling to be both charming and inspiring.
Cracker Barrel / By Howard Carraway / October 6, 1959
Florida is a beautiful land, naturally. Although a late comer, a new arrival, I’m no snowbird. It was Florida in the winter that I came to see and visit, but it is Florida in the spring and summer that I have stayed to enjoy and admire equally, and that is to say, excessively.
Such lushness of growth, such cleanness of air, such wetness of water! It is a fine combination of excess and moderation that appeals to me, and the wilder and more “original” it is, the more it appeals.
The prairies are the places I have like the best of all I’ve seen in seven months. Enough of them should be preserved permanently to give a fellow a place to go and lose himself in the vastness and isolation almost like a desert. The coast is delightful, and the water is, of course, fine. The highways are beautiful and efficient, and the city is a joy to live in. Yet there is a magnificence about the back country that defies comparison. It is unique, yet to me it was as familiar the first time I saw it as though I had been there before. There was, in the roughest sense, a communion of spirits, and even the mosquitoes seemed to know me. They flew right up and sat down.
The first trip into the back country, it was to fish in the ditches of an abandoned tomato field. Isn’t that something, now, to drive 40 miles, much of it over rough, swampy country, leaving behind some of the finest fishing waters in the world, to cast a plug in a ditch you could spit across? It may seem dizzy, but after the first cast which brought a scrappy five-pound bass onto the bank, it makes the best kind of good sense.
There was much more than just hungry black bass to appeal to one, too. Two whooping cranes, so rare as to be practically extinct, launched themselves almost awkwardly to the air, and blasted their hoarse, hollow klaxon horns over the savanna. It was one of the most exciting events of my outdoor life. I saw them again foraging in the palmettos.
I saw wild turkeys, an alligator, and huge herds of slick, red beef cattle miles from the nearest barn. I saw quail in great abundance, a hundred varieties of birds, some of which I had never seen before and others that had been so long unseen as to be practically forgotten. I saw great cottonmouths, and turf freshly rooted up by wild pigs. Deer trails, raccoon tracks, and what seemed like thousands of crows.
Many of these things can be seen closer to the centers of civilization than I was on this memorable first journey into the interior. But I don’t believe they will be found in such abundance, nor in such compatible surroundings. A wild turkey trotting through the palmettos at daybreak looks just as natural as an alley cat darting across 26th street at dusk.
Floridians take them for granted, but the newcomer is quite a while accepting them as natural phenomena, for the hammock is a thing of beauty too, like a landscaper had forced it into that shape. It fits where it is, and you wouldn’t want it moved or changed. Until you finally come to recognize it as a natural occurrence, you think someone is playing tricks on you.
A hammock is an oasis, a natural place for life to gravitate. I feel drawn to one as though my chair and slippers were waiting, and the evening paper opened to the sports page.
In three stories or editorials (May 19th 29th and 30th, 2015) the Bradenton Herald wrote about the tremendous recovery in seagrass beds in Tampa Bay – news all Floridians should be absolutely thrilled about. A reading of these pieces includes far more than a suggestion that there is a cause-and-effect connection between the seagrass bed recoveries and the fertilizer blackout component of the relevant fertilizer ordinances passed in the region (Pinellas-2010; City of Tampa-2011; Manatee-2011).
Confessing that this blog advocates for the Green Industries (turfgrass, landscape, golf, professional lawn care, etc.), and that I have strong feelings about personal property rights, I’ll defer offering my own assessment of those editorial suggestions. Instead, let me use the information offered by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) itself.
The following comes from an article published on TBO.com on March 22, 2014. In that article, the TBEP was attributed as stating that 34,642 acres of seagrass beds had recovered through 2012, only 3,358 acres shy of the TBEP’s total goal of 38,000 acres. The TBEP went on to say that 1,745 of those recovered acres happened from 2010 – 2012. That means that the balance of the recovery (32,897 acres) occurred in 2009 or before. For starters, that means that 87% of the TBEP goal is indisputably UN-attributable to the fertilizer blackout policies. Stated another way, that means that 95% of the 34,642 recovered acres happened before 2010 when the first blackout was passed. Finally, that means that looking at the implementation years (passage-year plus 1) of the blackouts (Pinellas-2011; City of Tampa-2012; Manatee-2012), it is clear to see that 0% of the recovered acres could be attributable to blackout policies.
Fast-forward to the TBEP’s most recent inventory of 40,295 acres of recovered seagrass beds. That is an additional 5,653 acres from the 2012 count (i.e. in 2013 and 2014). Looking again at the implementation dates, at the acknowledged fact that the blackouts are largely unenforced, at the enormous scale of the endeavor, at the relatively slow seagrass growth rates (studies of compensatory seagrass replacement suggest average density recoveries ranging from 3 to 17 years), and given the beneficial impact of the significant “side populations” of already-recovered beds, no reasonable person could say that these recoveries have any significant connection whatsoever to the blackout element of the fertilizer ordinances noted. In addition, you must logically say that the blackouts have not added anything material to the improvement of the bay – what was working before 2012 (pre-blackout) is simply still working.
OK, so what happened then? I feel like I can express an educated opinion on this, completely apart from my involvement with the Green Industries. Having spent two terms on the SWFWMD’s Manasota Basin Board, and having been a consistent supporter in that role of the TBEP and its efforts connected with Tampa Bay, the answer is, in a way, easier than you might think. Further, the TBO.com article really makes my case. Namely that subsequent to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, local governments and industry got seriously busy doing the right things. They quit dumping effluents in the bay, they adopted strict management techniques for stormwater and nutrient management, and they partnered with the FDEP, SWFWMD and TBEP on huge reclamation and treatment projects. And in the ensuing decades, like a battleship on a new bearing, those efforts continued, the bay started to respond, and it has picked up the glorious head of steam it now enjoys. Once again, the efforts and forces at work, worked! Kudos of the highest order to all involved.
Given this information, is it simply OK now to say of the blackouts “OK, no harm, no foul”? No, no, no. There is a flagrant foul in the form of the punitive impacts on an industry that was in fact a partner in the solution. Then there is a foul in the blackout legacy that is adversely impacting other communities (e.g. the Indian River Lagoon / IRL area). Having attended numerous public hearings in that region, I heard blackout enablers say over and over and over again “Look at Tampa Bay’s recovery that happened because of their blackout ordinances – you need to do that here too”. Sadly, in spite of the Green Industry’s extensive efforts to provide the local media and local elected officials the crystal-clear facts above, some of those local governments opted to include the blackout element in their ordinances, and, in my opinion, their citizens were sold a bill of goods that the IRL was going to miraculously recover because of it. Spoiler alert – it hasn’t. The reality is that until those local governments take the hard (and expensive) steps that were taken in southwest Florida to address the real root causes, including septic reform, reclaimed water redirection, and aggressive stormwater management and treatment, the IRL is going to remain impaired. Low-hanging fruit in this issue is a myth. I lay the legacy of false hope squarely at the feet of the leadership of the blackout enablers who perpetrated a real fiction on those east coast elected officials and residents looking for answers.
To those who say the blackouts are a means of educating the public on responsible fertilizer use, I would suggest that we try a radical approach that the SWFWMD has used very successfully in natural resource protection matters (in lieu of a punitive regulatory-first mentality). Wait for it – it’s called… education! I think people want to do the right things and should be given the benefit of the doubt – not a 2 x 4.
Based on the TBEP data then, the informed outcome would be to repeal the blackouts. Short of that, they should be revisited with meaningful stakeholder workshops to get a thorough and balanced look at the science and the facts. Then having done some actual due diligence, we can come up with something a little more sophisticated than the blackouts. Isn’t that what good government is supposed to do?
Over the life of EREF, we have all seen a lot of environmental “activism” taking place. It covers a broad range of opinion, attitude and accuracy (or lack thereof!).
Part of the evolution of EREF has been in how to best serve the Green Industries in order to deal with that broad range of activities, particularly when it starts to impact policy making at all levels of regulation and government – including water management districts, local/regional water authorities and city / county / state governments. We have seen efforts in each of these arenas aimed at changing what we do and how we do it. More often than not, if left unchecked, these changes hurt us and our business unfairly, unnecessarily or disproportionately.
Having spent over twenty years dealing with water-management issues, I can attest to the complexity of the subject and how overwhelming it can seem when in the midst of a rulemaking, regulatory or legislative process that imposes negative consequences on the industry. But as importantly, I have been involved in enough of these processes to say that in many cases, there is a core of people from the relevant stakeholder groups who really want to find a workable solution for everyone. I think it is in our nature to be problem solvers and so this is the “sweet spot” where we really need to try to be.
That said, there are going to be exceptions too – extremists who will never be happy with anything less than the eradication of man’s footprint from the State of Florida. I won’t name any names but you can picture some of these folks from past dust-ups who would portray you and what you do as monstrous, and who will say incredibly scary and untrue things about the impacts of improved lawns and landscapes in order to move public opinion toward bad policies.
Listen, I know you and the heart of this industry, and better yet, you know it yourselves. Some of the most inspirational messages I have heard in these discussions around the state about water quality and water use come from those of you who live and work in the business every day, and who would never endanger the beauty and special nature of Florida’s water resources for any reason.
We say it over and over because we need to – the Green Industries have been developing, improving and implementing highly-effective practices for decades, which have been integral to virtually every clean-water and water conservation outcome out there – Tampa Bay being an excellent example (more about that soon).
When we get down to it, EREF and its industry partners and friends, have to take their positive message to others to let them know what we do and how we do it. We have to win the hearts and minds of the public and ultimately those who are responsible for policy making that impacts us. We intend to accomplish that with research, education, good science and collaboration – but we’ll certainly fight if we need to!
Keep Living Green Florida!
Lakeland, Florida / January 18, 2016 – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (“EREF”) and Carraway Consulting announced today the appointment of Mac Carraway as its consulting Executive Director. Mr. Carraway is a 23-year veteran of Florida’s agricultural and green industries and is the President of Carraway Consulting in Bradenton, Florida.
Acting EREF Board of Directors Chairman Mac Briley of ValleyCrest in Orlando, Florida, detailed the announcement. “Mac [Carraway] has been involved with EREF since its inception, and was its first Chairman until accepting this appointment as EREF’s Executive Director. The Board felt it was the logical next step to have Mac formally assume these responsibilities to help EREF further its mission in 2016 and beyond.”
Mr. Carraway has a long history in environmental and water management issues related to agriculture and the green industries. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) Agricultural Advisory Committee and is a two-time gubernatorial appointee to its Manasota Basin Board. He is a past Chairman of the Florida Turfgrass Association and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and has served on numerous water conservation and water quality organizations including the Florida Chamber of Commerce Water Task Force.
Mr. Carraway stated, “I’m looking forward to 2016 for EREF in this new role. We have a critical and exciting mission of education, outreach and advocacy for those in the lawn care, turfgrass, golf, sports and landscape industries. These industries are made up of great people and great organizations that are absolutely determined to continuing their decades-long commitments to sustainable and responsibly maintained greenspaces. I am very proud to represent them and grateful for this opportunity”.
The Environmental Research & Education Foundation is a non-profit industry association located in Lakeland, Florida. Its mission is to protect Florida’s environment and natural resources through the funding of environmental research and the sharing of sound scientific findings on the environmental and human-health benefits of properly maintained greenspaces and urban landscapes.
Carraway Consulting is a financial and agribusiness consulting firm located in Bradenton, Florida.