GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Since 2000, the University of Florida’s Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra has been “an idea place” where new crops and production techniques are tested.
Now, it’s a place where new ideas can be communicated to UF faculty, students and guests much more easily.
At a May 15 ceremony attended by several hundred guests, UF officials dedicated the unit’s new 12,000 square-foot conference center, the Frank Stronach Plant Science Center, named for the donor who funded the building project.
“Today, we gather to dedicate more than a building—it’s an idea place,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
That sentiment was echoed by several other speakers, including UF President Bernie Machen, who noted that many of the crop varieties developed by UF plant breeders get their first real-world field trials at the unit.
Though the 1,068-acre unit has always had plenty of room for cultivating plants, it’s only now that there’s enough teaching space, said Danny Colvin, the unit’s director.
The conference center comprises two facilities: a 7,000 square-foot open-air pavilion and a 5,380 square-foot multipurpose room, which can be divided into three classrooms or opened into an auditorium with seating for 300.
Both will be used for classes, seminars, field days and other teaching and extension functions, he said.
At the dedication ceremony, Colvin recounted the unit’s history. Donated to UF in 1972, the land was used for cattle research until 1995 and repurposed for plant research in 2000.
“We built it one piece at a time,” he said, explaining how the number of plant research experiments grew from an initial 13 to a present count of more than 600.
Two years ago, Colvin met Frank Stronach, a Canadian entrepreneur who sought advice for a grass-fed beef enterprise he was planning in Marion and Levy counties. Impressed with the unit’s work, Stronach donated $1.5 million needed to construct the multipurpose building and pavilion.
Stronach addressed the audience at the ceremony, saying he hopes to be a good corporate citizen and looks forward to working with UF personnel on future projects.
The ceremony concluded with a pair of ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one involving Stronach and Marion County commissioners, the other pairing him with UF officials.
Research at the unit involves trees, turf, ornamentals, vegetables, fruits and energy crops. Programs there focus on topics such as organic production, weed science, plant pathology, insect pest management, irrigation and soil fertility.
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Danny Colvin, 352-591-2678, email@example.com