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UF breaks ground for new 7,800-square-foot Austin Cary Forest Learning Center

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Crops, Environment, Extension, Forestry, Green Living, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new era began for the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation April 6 as ground was broken for the Austin Cary Forest Learning Center, a 7,800-square-foot education and outreach complex in the heart of the UF-owned forest northeast of Gainesville.

The learning center will succeed and surpass the Austin Cary Forest Conference Center, destroyed by fire in July 2011. Fundraising and recovery efforts began immediately after the fire, and at the groundbreaking event, UF Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Jack Payne expressed awe at their rapid progress.

“I never thought we’d be here two years later,” said Payne, who noted the importance of forest products to the state’s economy — $15 billion and 90,000 jobs. Speaking to a crowd of about 400 supporters, he discussed the Austin Cary Forest’s role as an essential link between natural resources and agriculture, and the role that pine trees may play in providing more of the world’s biofuel and fiber needs.

Construction for the learning center is slated to begin immediately and should be completed in less than one year, SFRC Director Tim White told attendees. The learning center will greatly enhance the school’s ability to provide distance education from Austin Cary Forest and accommodate large in-person events there, he said.

“This is a community resource, not an SFRC resource,” White said. “Tell people we want it to be used.”

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UF entomologist Roxanne Connelly leads American Mosquito Control Association

Topic(s): Announcements, Conservation, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Families and Consumers, Green Living, Household Pests, IFAS, Invasive Species

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When questions arise about mosquito control, University of Florida entomologist Roxanne Connelly is one of the state’s most sought-after experts. Now, that expertise has earned her the presidency of a national organization.

Connelly, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, was inducted Feb. 27 as president of the American Mosquito Control Association at the association’s annual meeting in Atlantic City, N.J. She’ll serve a one-year term.

“I’m very pleased about it,” Connelly said in a March interview. “Holding this position is really an honor for me because I was elected to it.”

The election happened at the 2010 AMCA annual meeting, where members voted Connelly to a four-year leadership stint. In 2011 she began by serving a one-year term as vice president, then another year as president-elect, and now president. In 2014 she’ll become immediate past president.

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UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation sets Spring Celebration for April 5-6

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Biocontrols, Biofuels, CALS, Conservation, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Forestry, IFAS, Invasive Species, New Technology, Research

Austin Cary Memorial Forest. UF/IFAS Photo by Dawn McKinstry.

UF/IFAS file photo of Austin Cary Forest palmetto and pine, by Dawn McKinstry

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — This spring, the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation has two reasons to celebrate:

One is the annual SFRC Spring Celebration on April 5-6. Here, alumni and friends of the School reconnect, recreate and learn about SFRC’s latest achievements.

The other reason: This year’s celebration includes a special milestone — groundbreaking for the new Austin Cary Forest Learning Center at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 6.

Dignitaries speaking at the groundbreaking include UF President Bernie Machen and UF Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Jack Payne.

“This groundbreaking marks a huge step forward for the School of Forest Resources and Conservation,” Payne said. “Thousands will benefit from activities on-site at the new Learning Center, and many programs taught here will be offered via distance education to audiences statewide and beyond.”

The 7,800 square-foot building will facilitate education and outreach events at Austin Cary Forest. It’s larger and better-equipped than the conference center it replaces, said Tim White, director of the School. That facility fell victim to a fire in July 2011.

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UF/IFAS Family Day at the Dairy Farm offers education, fun

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Economics, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, Livestock, New Technology, Pollution, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Milk may be sold in supermarkets, but it comes from cows – that’s the lesson being offered this Saturday at Family Day at the Dairy Farm, a free open-house event at the University of Florida’s dairy farm in Hague, 20 minutes northwest of Gainesville.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., dairy researchers and Extension specialists with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will showcase the farm’s operations and explain how their work helps commercial dairy producers. For directions, see http://tinyurl.com/d3a5626.

Visitors can watch cows being fed and milked, learn about cattle nutrition and health-care practices, pet live calves, tour barns, sample dairy products and make their own butter.

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Tourists’ photos could help scientists study whale sharks, UF/IFAS expert says

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment

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Photo by Juliane Struve. Click here for high-res image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Whale sharks may be the world’s largest fish, but the body of scientific knowledge surrounding them is surprisingly small.

Now, a University of Florida expert says tourists armed with cameras may be a new source of data about the gentle giants, often seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Photographs could help scientists gauge the shark’s abundance and shed light on its longevity, migratory patterns, breeding habits and other information needed for conservation efforts.

A study published in the current issue of the journal Wildlife Research examined whale shark photographs and video still images posted online by vacationers on diving or sightseeing excursions who’d seen the creatures. The researchers concluded that the material was often suitable for use in scientific studies that identify and track individual whale sharks.

“We need to consider all available information to try and fill the gaps of knowledge for data-deficient, vulnerable species like whale sharks,” said Juliane Struve, a research assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Citizen photos are as useful as researcher photos if they meet the requirements of photo identification.”

Whale sharks can be individually identified because each one has a unique pattern of spots and lines on its back, giving the creature a visual signature akin to a fingerprint, Struve said. And, unlike many large marine species, whale sharks often swim close to the surface, making them accessible to photographers.

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To help homeowners, industry personnel, UF/IFAS posts videos on turfgrass research

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Cultivars, Environment, Green Living, Landscaping, Lawn & Garden

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences recently completed the state’s largest-ever study of landscape turfgrass and fertilizer use, and new online videos will help homeowners and lawn-care professionals understand the findings.

The eight-year, $4.2 million study was funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine the effectiveness of current UF/IFAS fertilizer recommendations, which have been in use since about 2000, said John Hayes, UF/IFAS dean for research. Florida has more than 5 million acres of home and commercial turf.

“This work is an important body of information generated here to address important questions about nutrient management,” Hayes said. “We’re proud to communicate our findings and we hope they will play a substantial role in helping residents, industry personnel and policymakers protect water quality.”

Three hours of technical presentations from a Jan. 15 live symposium are available at http://tinyurl.com/be2la7q and a three-minute video aimed at educating the public has been posted at http://tinyurl.com/ajy4ytr.

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UF/IFAS report finds Floridians value water resources, want to conserve

Topic(s): Conservation, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians are more concerned with water quality than quantity, the results of a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences water survey suggest.The survey of some 469 Floridians found that when respondents were asked to assign levels of importance to 16 water-related topics such as “plentiful water for cities” and “clean groundwater,” residents rated having “clean drinking water” most important. (more …)

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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UF/IFAS survey of nation’s largest cities finds water supplies not as threatened as believed

Topic(s): Conservation, Research

When taken into consideration, man-made infrastructure to channel water -- such as this urban creek in Northwest Gainesville -- changes the look of water availability and vulnerability in the United States, University of Florida research shows. UF/IFAS photo by Marisol Amador.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Although reports of drought conditions, water wars and restrictions have often painted a bleak picture of the nation’s water availability, a new University of Florida survey finds that conditions aren’t quite so bad as believed.

 Jim Jawitz, a UF soil and water science professor, and Julie Padowski, who earned her doctoral degree from UF and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, knew that previous assessments of urban water supplies typically used what is known as a “runoff-based approach,” which takes into account factors such as river flows and rainfall amounts.

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UF/IFAS expert helps solve 80-year mystery, as team identifies fungus killing Torreya trees

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Forestry

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An 80-year search for a tree killer has ended, says a University of Florida forest pathologist who helped identify the fungus that virtually wiped out the Florida Torreya and fears it may threaten other species.

The fungus infects more than 90 percent of wild Florida Torreyas in their native range, which covers parts of North Florida and South Georgia close to the Apalachicola River, said Jason Smith, an associate professor with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Smith is part of a research team that discovered the fungus, Fusarium torreyae, and formally described it in the journal Mycologia. Personnel from Atlanta Botanical Garden and the state Department of Environmental Protection are also involved.

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