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UF/IFAS faculty aid Fort White teens in building aquaponics system to raise fish, vegetables

Topic(s): Agriculture, Aquaculture, Conservation, Crops, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Livestock, New Technology

Aquaponics news story. UF/IFAS Photo by Marisol Amador

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some teenagers want a car; Tiffy Murrow wants to feed the world.

The Fort White High School junior has spent almost two years learning to farm fish, with help from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and her school’s agriculture adviser, Wayne Oelfke.

Murrow started with glass aquaria and tropical fish, then she graduated to a 750-gallon tank housed in an equipment building on the school campus. It holds 140 tilapia destined for a soup kitchen in nearby Lake City when they reach optimum size, about one pound.

But this project is about more than fish.

Soon, Murrow and collaborator Kaila Cheney, a FWHS sophomore, will begin growing vegetables on floating platforms in another part of the system, a shallow pool where water circulates. The crops may include cucumber, tomato, lettuce and basil. With roots dangling in the water, the plants will draw moisture and nutrients from the pool, reducing the need for fertilizer and helping maintain the ammonia and nitrogen levels tilapia need to stay healthy.

The technology is called aquaponics, a sustainable method for raising food where farmland is scarce. Increasingly common in Third World countries, aquaponics is still a novel concept to many Americans. But in Fort White, Murrow has plans to spread the word by holding open house events and encouraging others to investigate aquaponics as a possible project, hobby or business opportunity.

“We want to see if we can make a difference,” Murrow said. “This is a model showing how you can grow a large amount of food in a small amount of space. We want to set up the same kind of thing with fish ponds and incorporate it into Third World countries.”

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Rice grown without paddies can feed drought-stricken communities, UF/IFAS expert says

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Cultivars, New Technology, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumed by 3 billion people, rice is arguably the world’s most important food staple, and one reason for its popularity is that rice can be grown under flooded conditions that suppress weeds, making cultivation easier.

In some parts of the world, water is in short supply, but farmers often devote what they can to rice farming, because the crop is so important. However, research has led to a simple but profound solution that requires less water – growing rice in fields, a practice called aerobic rice production.

The practice relies on rainfall plus limited irrigation to meet the plants’ moisture needs. It requires about 40 percent less water than paddy-grown rice, according to a University of Florida study in the current issue of Agronomy Journal.

Aerobic rice production is gaining popularity in India and Southeast Asia, particularly in drought-stricken or upland areas, said Rao Mylavarapu, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and one of the study’s authors.

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Two UF/IFAS faculty members honored for international work, influence

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Families and Consumers, Honors and Appointments, Household Pests, IFAS, Research, Weather


Nan-Yao Su, right, is congratulated by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. Click here for high-res image.


Clyde Fraisse, right, is congratulated by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. Click here for high-res image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Termite control pioneer Nan-Yao Su and climate expert Clyde Fraisse of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences were honored for their international work this week, receiving a pair of annual awards.

Su, an entomology professor at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, received the International Fellow Award; Fraisse, an associate professor with the agricultural and biological engineering department in Gainesville, received the UF/IFAS International Achievement Award.

Both were recognized Thursday at a meeting of top UF/IFAS administrators. Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, and Walter Bowen, director of UF/IFAS International Programs, formally presented the awards.

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UF Oyster Recovery Team updates Apalachicola producers, leaders on recovery project

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Economics, Environment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Apalachicola-area oystermen and community leaders received a progress report Thursday from University of Florida scientists working to remediate the area’s oyster population collapse.

Karl Havens, director of Florida Sea Grant and leader of the UF Oyster Recovery Team, told a crowd of about 75 in Apalachicola that data being developed will help local industry representatives make management decisions to protect the area’s world-famous shellfish.

“A good path forward will be one where scientists like us can give the community information to empower them to participate in the protection of the Apalachicola Bay system and its fisheries,” Havens said.

At the meeting, members of the locally based seafood industry self-help organization Seafood Management Assistance Resource & Recovery Team, or SMARRT, announced plans for a stakeholders’ group. Made up of oystermen, shrimpers, crabbers, guides, dealers and other industry personnel, the 15-member group would enable the local seafood community to “speak with one voice” in communications with management agencies and research teams.

Chris Millender, a SMARRT ad hoc committee member and chairperson of the Franklin County Seafood Workers’ Association, said he hopes that with local expertise and scientific support, Apalachicola Bay can be managed sustainably and the oyster fishery collapse won’t be repeated.

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UF researcher exploring plant preservation method that could help endangered species

Topic(s): Crops, IFAS, New Technology, RECs, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida scientist is researching a method to freeze and preserve orchid seeds, and besides aiding producers, it might also give endangered plants a better chance at survival.

Wagner Vendrame, an associate professor of environmental horticulture with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is trying to improve a technique known as cryopreservation, in which living cells or tissues are frozen in liquid nitrogen at minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit for later use. So far, his results from cryopreserving orchid seeds have been promising.

The Florida orchid industry generated more than $43 million in sales in 2011. It produces orchids for both the specialty and mass market using hybrid plants that can be cultivated and are thus not in danger of extinction as many orchid species are.

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Push-pull approach could keep Western flower thrips off peppers, UF/IFAS researchers say

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Crops, Environment, Invasive Species, New Technology, Pests

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Cutline at bottom. Click here for high-resolution image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Repelling Western flower thrips from Florida’s bell peppers could be as simple as giving the insects a push and a pull, say researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

A team at UF’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy is evaluating an eco-friendly approach called “push-pull.” It’s meant to push thrips away from the target crop with unpleasant stimuli, and pull the insect to another type of plant grown as a lure.

Initial findings from a two-year study at a South Florida farm suggest that push-pull could help the state’s outdoor pepper growers reduce the thrips threat, said entomologist Joe Funderburk, a UF/IFAS professor who led the study.

The Western flower thrips is native to the Southwestern United States but spread to the country’s Eastern half in the 1980s. The insect feeds on plant juices and preys on more than 500 species, including many vegetables, fruits and ornamentals. It also transmits the notorious tomato spotted wilt virus.

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Tunnel technology could help Florida blueberry growers, UF/IFAS study suggests

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, RECs, Research, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Protecting Florida’s $80 million blueberry crop from freeze damage is always a wintertime challenge, but a University of Florida study shows that structures called high tunnels could shield plants from cold and promote earlier fruit ripening.

Though the initial investment can run from $18,000 to $25,000 per acre plus labor, high tunnels deliver better quality fruit, bigger early yields and higher prices if growers beat competitors to market, said Bielinski Santos, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The study, published in the current issue of HortTechnology, tracked two growing seasons on a commercial blueberry farm in Alachua County. The results showed that temperatures outside the tunnels plunged to freezing or near-freezing 61 times during the study. Temperatures fell that low just three times inside the unheated tunnels.

High tunnels may increase air and soil temperatures and protect the plants from wind and rain damage, leading to better flowering and more fruit, said Santos, based at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm.

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Florida soil a patchwork quilt for carbon content, UF/IFAS researchers find

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, New Technology, Pollution

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida is home to many types of soil and some of them lack carbon, meaning they could be used for carbon sequestration – but a new University of Florida study shows that variability in the state’s existing soil carbon levels could make the task harder.

Carbon sequestration is the practice of storing carbon; one way to accomplish it is by adding carbon-rich material to soils. Carbon sequestration aims to slow the build-up of carbon-based gases in the atmosphere, a phenomenon believed to be a cause of global climate change. Some landowners may be able to make money by allowing their properties to be used as sites for carbon sequestration.

In a presentation today at the joint meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, researchers with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences reported early findings from a statewide study analyzing soil carbon content across areas the size of a football field.

The results confirm what researchers have suspected – that soil carbon content can vary widely on a small site, said Sabine Grunwald, a professor in UF’s soil and water science department. That means efforts to amend soil with carbon-rich biomass will need to be tailored to local carbon levels.

The results also confirm that soil carbon variability has a lot to do with how the land is used and what material covers the land, factors known as land use and land cover.

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UF/IFAS scientists part of team set to study integrative pollination of the nation’s specialty crops

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, IFAS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are part of a team awarded $1.7 million for the first year of a national crop pollination research and outreach project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the grant to Michigan State University. Over the five-year life of the $9.1 million grant, UF/IFAS entomology researcher Jamie Ellis said he expects UF will receive about $700,000.

The project will focus on improving specialty crop yields and profit by supporting both wild and managed bees, and it is part of the USDA’s $101 million initiative on behalf of the nation’s specialty crop producers.

In Florida’s case, the specialty crops to be studied include watermelon and blueberries, Ellis said.

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UF-bred nectarine tree planted to honor Faculty Senate Chair Cheri Brodeur

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Research


Click here for high-resolution photo; cutline is at bottom.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Faculty Senate Chair Cheri Brodeur is definitely a product of UF, having been a student, staffer and faculty member here.

So when it came time to honor her latest achievement with a tree-planting ceremony, it was natural that Brodeur chose a tree that hails from her alma mater. It’s the Southern Rose nectarine, a variety developed by plant breeders with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and released in summer 2011.

A five-foot sapling was planted on the UF campus’ Reitz Union Lawn Wednesday, Oct. 17 at a ceremony attended by Brodeur, UF officials and numerous onlookers. The tree-planting is a tradition for each UF Faculty Senate chair.

“The reason I made a big deal about this (variety) is that the tree is grown by my college and so that was really important to me,” said Brodeur, an assistant extension scientist with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ agricultural education and communication department.

Brodeur said she chose the nectarine to promote UF/IFAS’ plant breeding program, one of the most active among the nation’s land-grant institutions. She said she also grows peaches at home and makes it a point to use UF-developed cultivars there.

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