‘If I Take Care of the Land, the Land’s Going to Take Care of Me’

Abbey Taylor Florida, Strawberry, Top Posts, VSCNews magazine

A Florida strawberry grower went above and beyond to be a steward of the land, earning the 4R Advocate Award.

Dustin Grooms

Agricultural producers pride themselves on being stewards of the land. Dustin Grooms, farm manager of Fancy Farms, is an excellent example of that. Grooms is a 2019 recipient of the 4R Advocate Award. This national award is given to five farms each year across the United States. Fancy Farms is the fourth recipient from Florida.

SMALL BEGINNINGS

Fancy Farms began as a 15-acre strawberry farm in Plant City, Florida. Dustin’s parents, Carl and Dee Dee, founded the farm in 1974. By the time their son took over management in 2007, the business had grown to 235 acres. Today, most of the land is used to grow strawberries, but Grooms says he is starting to get back into growing some other crops like pepper and squash.

Fancy Farms recently added a produce stand to the business and hosts u-pick events. One of these events supports Hillsborough 4-H and local food banks.

HARD WORK PAYING OFF

Each year, the 4R Advocate program awards farmers for implementing the 4Rs in their production systems. The Rs stand for right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. 4R advocates raise awareness about the 4Rs and tell their stories to encourage others to adopt and implement 4R nutrient stewardship practices.

According to NutrientStewardship.com, the 4R Advocate program began recognizing U.S. farmers in 2012. It has recognized 80 agricultural producers and retailers who manage 175,625 acres in 20 states.

Grooms says he is very grateful to be a recipient of this award. “It was a huge deal … It’s hard to think that a small strawberry farm — we have a garden compared to what some people have — could actually be honored with this prestigious award,” he says.

There are several production practices implemented on Fancy Farms that led to Grooms receiving this award. The farm uses drip irrigation throughout its acreage. Using drip helps ensure that nutrients and water are going straight into the root zone. In addition, Grooms uses moisture meter probes, which allow him to see how much water is in the beds. The probes also show where the fertilizer is going and how far down it is going. If the fertilizer or water is not reaching the root zone, or if it is going too far, rate adjustments can be made accordingly.

Soil samples are a big part of Fancy Farms’ best management practices. Pulling grid and zone soil samples allows Grooms to be sure nutrients are applied in the right place. These samples not only tell him what he needs to put in the ground, but how much. “We learn a lot from those soil samples … and we do different grids with that so we can really get what we need in certain areas without wasting anything that’s not needed,” Grooms explains.

NutrientStewardship.com notes that although most strawberry growers use soil samples, Fancy Farms was one of the first to do so.

Soil samples have also allowed Grooms to create a sound nutrition program for his fields in accordance with the baseline established by the University of Florida, which is 150 pounds per acre of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Throughout the growing season, tissue analysis samples are taken to see if any changes need to be applied to a field. “We may need to adjust the fertilizer, maybe give more of something or maybe adding some more minor elements to it,” Grooms explains.

Fancy Farms has also included the use of diverse cover crops in its fields. “We’re excited to see where that takes us in the future,” Grooms says.

GREAT HELP WITH A LONG HISTORY

Jerrod Parker (left) and Dustin Grooms. Photo courtesy of Steve Woit.

Grooms notes that none of this would be possible without help from Fancy Farms’ crop advisor Jerrod Parker of Chemical Dynamics. Parker has been instrumental in the implementation of the 4Rs in Fancy Farms’ fields.

“I call Jerrod all the time,” Grooms laughs. “I guess I might have some crazy ideas, and sometimes he has to keep me reeled in. I definitely rely on Jerrod.”

Parker will travel to Fancy Farms to take soil and tissue samples. After analyzing the sample results, he helps Grooms come up with an action plan, and the pair goes out in the field to get the job done.

“Every time he’s been right on the money with what he’s recommended,” Grooms says. He adds that he is thankful to have such a great crop advisor who’s available whenever needed.

However, the partnership between Parker and Grooms is really nothing new. Parker’s father used to have the same job as him, and back then his father was Carl Grooms’ crop advisor. “The relationship goes back to before I was even born,” Grooms says.

“It was an honor to be named one of the 2019 winners of the 4R Advocate Award alongside my friend Dustin Grooms of Fancy Farms,” says Parker. “All of the credit for this award goes to Fancy Farms for its efforts toward being a sustainable and productive farming operation. Dustin has an extensive understanding of what it means to be a good steward of his farm and the resources it holds. It’s a privilege to work with Fancy Farms and other strawberry growers like them every day,” he says.

A MESSAGE TO OTHERS

According to Grooms, although it has been a long road to get the 4R practices in place, it is worth it to be a steward of the land. Grooms encourages growers to do whatever they can to do things right and take care of their land. “If I take care of the land, the land’s going to take care of me,” Grooms concludes. “My dad has always said that.”

For more information on the 4R Advocate Award and to view past recipients, visit NutrientStewardship.com.

About the Author

Abbey Taylor

Editor of VSCNews magazine and farm broadcaster

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