University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers turn seed into jet fuel for Navy and crops into cash for farmers

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Imagine jet fuel made from a crop that’s renewable, brings in income and can feed cattle. Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have found a way to turn Ethiopian mustard seed into a winning solution for local farmers and the United States Navy.

UF/IFAS plant pathologist Jim Marois is leading the effort to make the jet fuel from seed. “It’s renewable, does not have to be blended as with other biofuels and it’s not harmful to the environment,” said Marois, who is stationed at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida.

Marois and other researchers are using a grant from the United States Navy and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study how to best grow Ethiopian mustard and determine which varieties work best in Florida. Florida, Canada and South Dakota are working to meet the Navy’s 8-million-barrel goal by 2020.

Two years ago, IFAS researchers started out with 20 acres of Ethiopian mustard at the North Florida REC in Quincy, Florida. Last winter, they grew 3,500 acres; this winter they expect to grow 25,000 acres.

Studies show that fuel from the Ethiopian mustard seed produces half the black carbon (incomplete combustion) exhaust as fossil fuel, Marois said. Also, with its higher flash point, the fuel is safer for use on Navy ships where fires are a real threat, he said.

Local farmers benefit, too, Marois said. The seed is a great winter crop that allows farmers to make money in the offseason. “The mustard seed not only brings in income, but also reduces erosion and creates better summer crops,” he said. “The project benefits the Navy, local farmers and cattle, who are fed the crushed seeds. It’s a win-win for everyone.”


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Jim Marois, 850-875-7120, jmarois@ufl.edu


UF/IFAS Researchers: State’s agritourism industry is soaring

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Every weekend from October to early November, thousands of families line up to traverse the Sweet Season Farms eight-acre corn maze in Milton, Florida, tucked into the northwest tip of the state. A few hundred miles away in south Florida, other residents spend their weekends visiting Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery, part of the state’s burgeoning wine-making industry.

“It used to be, even just 20 years ago, that all that Florida offered in agricultural tourism was u-pick farms where visitors could pick their own fruits,” said Taylor Stein, associate professor of ecotourism in the School of Forest Services and Conservation, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Now, we have small, family-owned farms offering fall festivals, corn mazes tours, wine tastings and other activities. Agritourism in Florida is growing every year.”

Florida’s top two industries are tourism and agriculture, said Edward “Gilly” Evans, associate professor and associate director of IFAS Global who is based at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. “It just made sense to combine the two to create an even bigger economic impact for farmers and the state, reduce the friction between farmers and urban dwellers by demonstrating how agriculture can conserve natural resources, and provide more recreation for the public,” he said. “Farmers can no longer concentrate on only growing crops; they also have to think about how to grow their revenues.”

Corn Maze

Amy Perryman, whose family owns Coon Hollo Farms in Micanopy in central Florida, grew a new vision for the family farm after visiting a corn maze in Jacksonville. “I absolutely fell in love with the idea of offering events at the farm. I like working with people and I’m a teacher at heart,” said the UF/IFAS alumna and former Extension agent for Baker County. “Plus, I was looking for a way to join the family farm without taking income from my parents.”

It took another five years before Perryman could convince her father that a corn maze was the way to go. “He couldn’t understand why anybody would pay to walk in the fields,” Perryman said.

The family opened the gates to their first 10-acre corn maze on fall weekend in 2009, and expected 2,000 to 3,000 visitors. Ten thousand showed up. “That’s when we knew we were onto something. Now, my sisters sell drinks, my grandmother sells jam, jellies and produce, and we offer hayrides, horseback riding, even weddings.”

Perryman and her family design and create their own corn maze. Others, like Trent Mathews, owner of Sweet Seasons Farms in Milton, pay companies to come up with the design. Last year’s design was of pro golfer and Milton native Bubba Watson.

“We come up with the idea of what we want, but we partner with a maze company out of Utah to create the design,” said Mathews, a UF/IFAS graduate and district conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Jay.

The family business has exploded. “We started with a five-acre maze. Currently, we have an eight-acre corn maze, a play area, a pumpkin patch, 20 acres for hayrides, and seven acres for parking,” Mathews said. “The events run for six weeks, and last year we had more than 27,000 people.”

Farmers are getting lots of help from local and state officials. In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed SB 1106, a bill that protects and strengthens agritourism opportunities for state farmers and ranchers. Before this law, farmers were faced with several barriers to agritourism. These include zoning laws and a heavy burden of liability.

“There used to be a massive insurance cost associated with agritourism. Now, the insurance companies understand the industry better and are more willing to work with farmers,” Stein said. Also, local zoning ordinances kept farmers from opening their farms to new business opportunities, and sometimes, neighbors balked at such a venture in their backyard.


Agritourism has grown so rapidly in the state that several farms now operate wineries. There is a special certification program for Florida Farm Wineries, which requires that a winery must produce or sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine each year, maintain at least 10 acres of vineyards in Florida, must apply for the program each year, must pay a $100 registration fee, and must be open to the public for tours, tasting and sales at least 30 hours a week, according to the state agritourism law.

Wineries that participate in the Florida Farm Wineries Program then become certified Florida Farm Wineries. This means that the winery is recognized as a state tourist attraction and it may display the Florida Farm Winery logo.

In south Florida, the Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery went from being a small family farm, to being the country’s southernmost winery. The owners, Peter and Denise Schnebly, set a goal for themselves of starting an agritourism business based from their farms in the Redlands of South Florida. Their vision was to provide tours to visitors of their 96 acres of exotic tropical fruits and gourmet vegetables that they grow and market fresh through their produce company Fresh King, Inc.

In the spring of 2003, the couple’s friend convinced them to start a winery featuring wines made from the tropical fruit that they grew. Sustainable farming became a top priority as the Schneblys boast that each mango, lychee, guava, passion fruit and Carambola is personally picked for fermentation.

“UF/IFAS researchers at Tropical REC were members of a team that did a tremendous amount of work to help change some of the laws to get the Schnebly farm certified as a winery,” Evans said. “Now, besides the winery there is an alligator farm, fruit stand, tours of the farm and brewery for specialty beers—all part of what is known as the Historic Redland Tropical Trail. We never could have predicted how successful this endeavor would have become.”

The future of agritourism in Florida is bright, Evans said. “When we first studied agritourism, we truly underestimated the success that would come,” he said. “Now, it’s anyone’s guess on how much of an economic impact this will make on the state and on local farmers. All the necessary components are there to help farmers keep their land, help the public understand the importance of locally grown food and help the state increase revenue.”


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Sources: Taylor Stein, 352-846-0860, tstein@ufl.edu


Escambia County Extension Office Hosts Grand Opening, Festival on May 2

Topic(s): Uncategorized

CANTONMENT, Fla. — UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County will hold an open house, building dedication and Master Gardener Spring Festival on May 2.

Festivities begin at 8 a.m. with festival activities. At 9 a.m. Extension hosts the dedication of the new Langley Bell 4-H Center at 3730 Stefani Road, Cantonment, Florida.

“Escambia County 4-H has a bright future ahead with new facilities, new 4-H staff and funding to carry it to preeminence nationwide.  Our goal and mission is to grow this program throughout the county and create positive 4-H youth development opportunities,” said Pamela Allen, UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County director.  “There is a definite excitement among the youth, volunteers, staff and community supporters.  Our prospects to make a difference in the lives of youth are endless.”


Residents, Escambia County commissioners, 4-H youth, and Escambia County Extension staff will enjoy tours of the new building, highlighting areas for hands-on learning for all Escambia County children, ages 8 to 18.  The original donation of 400 acres was given in 1943 by Minnie and Langley Bell. The property had been overcut for timber and was waiting to be reborn for a 4-H center ripe with enthusiasm and educational programs that promoted agriculture, silviculture and natural resource conservation.

The property was given to Escambia County 4-H in a trust with the Board of County Commissioners serving as trustees. 4-H is the youth development program of U F/ IFAS Extension. . This partnership has worked for over 72 years and continues with the completion of the facility on 9 ½ and Stefani Road in Cantonment next to the UF/IFAS Extension building.

The original 4-H property was sold in 2012 to Navy Federal Credit Union, which created a new opportunity for 4-H facilities. Funds from the sale were used to purchase 108 acres in Molino where the new 4-H Animal Science and Outdoor Center is being developed

“Escambia County 4-H traditions have a strong foundation with the many successes of the past and will no doubt be carried forward with our new Langley Bell 4-H Center and the new 4-H property in Molino.  A new generation of 4-Hers will now be served in a way that is unparalleled in facilities, financial support and community involvement,” said Brian Bell, president of the Escambia County 4-H Foundation and also the grandson of the original donors of the property, Minnie and Langley Bell. “My grandparents, Uncle Bill (Langley Bell, Jr.), and my father would be ecstatic to see how 4-H has used that initial donation of land to further its mission and serve so many more youth in this community.”

The Master Gardener Spring Festival will include a variety of activities and goods, including growing plants from seeds, propagation methods, plant sale, plant clinic, exotic vegetables and fruits, Day Lily bulb sale, refreshments sale, demonstration garden tours and tractor display.

For more information, call UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County at 850-475-5230, or visit Escambia.ifas.ufl.edu.


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufle.edu


Source: Pamela Allen, 850-475-5230, pha@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS research finds ways to save water, strawberries and money during cold temps

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Economics, Environment, IFAS, Research, Weather

Organic strawberry e-book Javier L. - Jan28,2014 - Citra - Focus grup assessment - Open field (45)-X2

Please see caption below

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s strawberry producers must protect their multimillion-dollar annual crop from freeze damage. Traditional methods involve constant spraying of water during a cold snap. Growers are looking for ways to use less water, yet produce the same amount of crop.

New University of Florida research shows growers can keep using both their current sprinkler spacing and low pressure or enhanced real-time irrigation control to save water – and they can produce the same strawberry crop yield during mild freezes.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Michael Dukes, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering and the lead author on the study. The improvement? An automated control treatment that used real-time dew point measurements – rather than temperatures — to turn the system on and off, he said.

(more …)

Citrus greening bacterium changes the behavior of bugs to promote its own spread

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, IFAS, RECs, Research
An Asian citrus psyllid feeds on a citrus tree, leaving the citrus greening bacteria. The bacteria will starve the tree of nutrients and eventually kill it.

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LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — The disease that threatens to destroy Florida’s $10.7 billion citrus industry appears to have its own mechanism to promote its spread, making it harder to control.  A recent study by five University of Florida researchers shows Asian citrus psyllids fly earlier in their life cycles, more frequently and farther when they are infected with citrus greening bacterium.

Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski and the team of researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred say these conclusions have global implications for how the disease spreads and strategies to control it. (more …)

UF/IFAS researcher finds way to cut cost, save water and help the environment by changing one simple thing

Topic(s): Agriculture, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Vegetables
University of Florida Professor Sanjay Shukla has developed a "compact bed geometry" that cuts water, fertilizer and pesticide use in half.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sanjay Shukla looked out over row upon row of tomato and pepper plants and had an idea: What would happen if he made the compacted soil rows taller and more narrow?  Would the plants need less water, fertilizer and fumigation?  Would the plants grow as tall?  Would the plants produce as many vegetables? (more …)

UF/IFAS study: Few science museums use the word “agriculture” to teach

Topic(s): Agriculture, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Research

Aerial Williams, left, Cynthia Brown and Laken McPherson add water and dyes to a groundwater simulator in a Tallahassee park (Wednesday 7/18). The device, which contains sand, plastic components and pipes, demonstrates how oil, pesticides and other chemicals poured on the ground can contaminate the water supply. Williams is in 11th grade at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Brown is a Leon County extension agent with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and McPherson is in fourth grade at Coast Charter School in Crawfordville, Fla. (AP Photo: Thomas Wright, University of Florida/IFAS)

Please see caption below

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Walk into a science museum, and you may read the words “paleontology” or “astronomy.”

But you’re not likely to find the word “agriculture” in any science museum, even though many exhibits relate to agricultural content or practices.

Katie Stofer found this gap when she surveyed 29 science museums in cities of all sizes across the U.S., and her findings are published in a new study in the journal Science Education and Civic Engagement.

“Unfortunately, we have effectively separated agriculture from the other sciences,” said Stofer, a UF/IFAS research assistant professor in agricultural education and communication.

(more …)

UF/IFAS researchers use pigs to root out problem weeds

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, Livestock, Research, Vegetables
Professor of Agronomy and Weed Science Greg MacDonald with his pigs.

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CITRA, Fla. — Sometimes, the old-fashioned ways are the best ways.

Back before chemical pesticides and herbicides, farmers had to come up with ways to kill the weeds that took over their fields. One method used “back in the day” was letting pigs loose in fields that were not being used for crops for a season and allowing the pigs to do what they do naturally: dig up the roots of weeds and  fertilize the land.

In the last year, Greg MacDonald, a weed science researcher with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, decided to give the method a try to combat nutsedge, a weed that looks like grass and is so resilient it can sprout up through plastic row-crop coverings and even the plastic lining of above-ground pools. (more …)

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