IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS Extension, Hastings farmers explore sweet potatoes as alternative crop

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Extension, IFAS, Pests, Research

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HASTINGS, Fla. — Back in the 1920s, Danny Johns’ great grandfather was the first farmer in the Hastings area to use a tractor instead of a mule. Now, in a region known for producing potatoes for the potato chip industry, Johns, like his ancestor, isn’t afraid of trying something new.

As of this year, Johns is one of a few commercial farmers in Florida who are growing sweet potatoes, a crop not produced in the state since the sweet potato weevil devastated much of the Florida industry for the commercial, orange sweet type in the 1980s.  Now, with the help of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, growers like Johns have the opportunity to diversify their business with this reemerging crop.

In Florida, potatoes grown for the potato chip industry, or “chipping” potatoes, are planted in January or February and harvested in May or June, said Scott Chambers, farm supervisor at the UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center. Table stock potatoes, potatoes sold fresh, are also planted and harvested at these times.

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UF/IFAS Extension program collects mosquito repellent for the homeless

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS

Skeeter Stop

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BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Experts agree that one effective way to protect yourself against mosquitoes —and the diseases they can transmit — is to wear mosquito repellent. But for homeless people, getting access to this kind of protection can be difficult.

In response, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension Hernando County has launched Operation Skeeter Stop. Organizers will collect donated containers of mosquito repellent and distribute them to the Hernando County homeless community.

The program is accepting donations until Oct. 31, and staffers hope to collect at least 500 containers of repellent. During this time, the UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HernandoExt/) will post weekly updates charting the progress toward this goal.

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UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County launches garden, nutrition program at community school

Topic(s): Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — As students at C.A. Weis Elementary School return for the new school year, they’ll notice something different about the area next to the outdoor space where physical education classes are usually held. Thanks to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, students will find a new school garden that offers hands-on learning and strives to be a community gathering place.

“The school used to have a garden, but it fell into disuse, which is when we stepped in,” said Beth Bolles, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County, who co-organized outreach at C.A. Weis with Angela Hinkle, a UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County agent who specializes in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

The project would not have been possible without the support of the school’s faculty and administration, the organizers said.

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UF/IFAS Extension fills five new positions to tackle water sustainability

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, IFAS

Citra, Pivot irrigation watering fields. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Though counties and water management districts may operate within set boundaries, water doesn’t stick to a jurisdiction. To address this reality, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has created five new faculty positions to facilitate partnerships among various stakeholders, including agriculture, state agencies, water management districts and the public.

Each of these new water resource regional specialized agents (RSAs) is assigned to one of the five UF/IFAS Extension districts.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to now have five regional specialized agents geographically dispersed across the state to lead proactive educational programs related to water quality and quantity,” said Nick Place, dean of UF/IFAS Extension. “I envision that these faculty will enable UF/IFAS Extension to lead educational efforts across our rural and urban sectors, which will lead toward implementation of improved best practices. With the ever-increasing pressure on water, these faculty will enable us to take steps across the state that will ensure greater sustainability of our critical water resources.”

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UF Field and Fork invites students to grow their own food, feed others this fall

Topic(s): CALS, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While most people at the University of Florida or in Gainesville are familiar with the UF bat houses across from Lake Alice on Museum Road, for some, those rows of kale or squash growing nearby are a mystery.

Called the Student Gardens, this plot of land is part of the UF Field and Fork Campus Food Program, an interdisciplinary initiative led by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Each semester, 30 to 50 students volunteer at the garden, working together to grow fresh vegetables while learning sustainable farming practices.

These volunteers get a share of what they grow, and through a partnership with the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field and Fork Pantry, which is run by UF Student Affairs, some of the harvest is distributed to those in the UF community facing food insecurity.

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‘Local food opinion leaders’ can help bridge gap between farmers, consumers

Topic(s): Agriculture, Economics, Extension, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, Nutrition

Buying and selling at an outdoor farmers' market

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“GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As consumers increasingly desire local food, opinion leaders can encourage others to eat healthier food and, in doing so, improve the local economy, according to new University of Florida Food and Agricultural Sciences research.

“Opinion leaders” are those who influence others via the respect they earn from those around them, said Alexa Lamm, associate director of the UF Center for Public Issues Education (PIE Center) and the leader of this research.

“Opinion leaders could be critical in bridging the gap between locally grown food and consumers. That’s important because local food sales totaled $6.1 million in 2012, up $1.3 million in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But another study showed only 7.8 percent of U.S. farms targeted local consumers.

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As zika spreads, UF/IFAS faculty on front lines battling the virus

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research, Safety

Common Aedes Aegypti mosquito, magnified 2,000 times at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 6/28, prepares to feed on human skin. After 15 years of test on more than 3,900 compounds, Jerry Bulter, professor of entomology, has developed a safe, natural insect repellent that protects people against everything from mosquitoes to ticks and tiny "no-see-ums."  Its the first effective alternative to products containing DEET, the most widely used ingredient in insect repellent now on the market. Butler's new herbal repellent is patented by the UF and licensed to a commercial firm.(AP Photo, Jerry Bulter)

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty are on the front lines in the battle against the zika virus, as entomologists study the ability of at least two mosquito species to transmit the virus and ways of reducing pesticide resistance.

They’re also teaching people statewide about how to prevent spreading zika.

As of Aug. 18, 510 American residents had contracted the virus. Florida has 479 zika cases, according to the state health department; 35 people in Florida have contracted zika via local transmission, meaning they didn’t bring it back from overseas.

Scientists at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, Florida, have made Zika a top priority. The virus is most likely transmitted by Aedes aegypti – the yellow fever mosquito – and Aedes albopictus – the Asian tiger mosquito.

In February, when the virus started making international news, Roxanne Connelly, a professor of medical entomology and UF/IFAS Extension specialist at the FMEL, put on a statewide zika webinar to tell Extension faculty the do’s and don’ts of trying to contain zika. One of her key messages – that still holds true — was to get rid of standing water and containers that could get water in them because those are mosquito breeding grounds. The other key element was to wear repellant with DEET.

These days, Connelly is working with other UF/IFAS Extension entomologists such as Faith Oi, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and mosquito control districts on zika educational workshops and school newsletters throughout Florida.

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UF/IFAS Extension in Suwannee Valley region helps watermelon growers save water, fuel, fertilizer

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Extension, IFAS, RECs, Research, Soil and Water Science

Sliced watermelons sitting atop a stack of uncut watermelons. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

LIVE OAK, Fla. — Robert Hochmuth remembers about 30 years ago when researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Suwanee Valley Agricultural Extension Center showed watermelon growers how to use transplants instead of direct seeding. UF/IFAS Extension agents encouraged growers to use plastic mulch instead of bare ground planting, and to switch from overhead to drip irrigation.

“We wanted to help them adopt best management practices that would decrease the use of water, fertilizer and fuel,” said Hochmuth, UF/IFAS Extension center director and regional specialized agent. “In the end, they have not only seen their crop yields increase, but have also helped the environment and reduced the use of resources.”

Over the past 30 years, virtually all Suwannee Valley watermelon growers—about 40—have reduced the use of water, fuel and fertilizer, and improved efficiency by switching to best management practices introduced by UF/IFAS Extension agents, Hochmuth said.

“Nearly one-third of all Florida watermelons are grown in the Suwannee Valley,” said Kevin Athearn, regional specialized agent and co-leader of the watermelon industry study. “So, we wanted to help growers improve the way they grow produce and increase their market share. While most growers started experimenting with plastic much during the 1990s, all had fully transitioned by 2000.”

The results have been astounding.

Growers who participated in a 2016 UF/IFAS survey reported a 50 percent to 80 percent reduction in water use per acre, with the average being 67 percent, Hochmuth said. The growers are saving as much in fuel costs, and 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in applied nitrogen, he said.

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What’s easier: Turning off water indoors or outside?

Topic(s): Economics, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Landscaping

Setting the sprinkler head for an irrigation system. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Apparently, it’s more convenient to Florida residents to save water while brushing their teeth than to cut back on lawn irrigation, according to a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension report.

Alexa Lamm, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication and Extension specialist, surveyed 932 people deemed to be high-water users in Orlando, Tampa/Sarasota and Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

Respondents were asked how often they engage in water-related behaviors. Among the results, 68 percent saved water when brushing their teeth, but only 29 percent reduced irrigating their lawns in the summer, according to the document, http://bit.ly/2bjQGSm.

To put this data into context, about 50 percent of Floridians’ daily water use is for outdoor purposes, such as landscape irrigation, according to the South Florida Water Management District. The 50 percent figure is 20 percent more than the national average, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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UF/IFAS 4Rs program helps growers use best management practices for fertilizer use

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, IFAS, RECs, Soil and Water Science

Kelly Morgan

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have introduced a program to help Florida growers maximize the use of nutrients and fertilizers while minimizing the impact on the environment. The results are less fertilizer use and improved crops.

The Four RIGHT (4Rs) program helps growers use the right fertilizer in the right place, at the right time, using the right methods, said Kelly Morgan, state Best Management Practices (BMP) coordinator and UF/IFAS professor of soil and water sciences.

“Fertilizers or nutrients are required in most crop production systems in Florida. While all soils in Florida can supply nutrients for crop production, nutrients may not always be available in adequate amounts for economical crop production,” said Morgan, who is based at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, Florida. “Supplying needed nutrients for crop production involves attention to four major fertilization factors: the right source, right rate, right placement and right timing. Attention to these factors will provide adequate nutrition for crop production while minimizing the risk of loss of nutrients to the environment.”

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