GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are working to find a cure or develop resistant varieties for a virus that is attacking sugarcane and sorghum throughout the Everglades agricultural region. Florida produces more than 50 percent of all sugarcane in the United States, making it the largest producer in the nation.
The sugarcane yellow leaf virus was first identified in Hawaii during the 1980s. The virus was found in Florida in 1993, said Philippe Rott, a professor of plant pathology at the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, Florida. Symptoms include a yellow stripe down the middle of sugarcane leaves, he said.
“The virus travels down the vascular bundle of the plant and interferes with the movement of nutrients,” Rott said. “This, in turn, stunts the growth of the plant.”
The virus is carried by an aphid, a tiny bug that feeds by sucking sap from plants, said Gregg Nuessly, director of UF/IFAS Everglades REC and a professor of entomology. Nuessly’s and Rott’s research has identified the carrier of the virus, and trials are in progress to see if insecticides are effective at killing the aphid.
BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Anita Neal, a longtime University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agent, has been named director for UF/IFAS Extension’s south district.
In her new position, Neal oversees the work of 11 UF/IFAS Extension county offices and the Seminole Indian Tribe. She said she is excited about her new role at UF/IFAS.
“Being an Extension district director enables me to help faculty accomplish their goals and be successful,” Neal said. “This position is a vehicle to take their thoughts, ideas and needs to the administration. And, I love helping to find those solutions.”
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With back-to-school season in full swing, imagine this: Your child orders lunch via computer and gets a little message saying he or she needs to add more nutritious food groups. That combination helped some youngsters eat healthier meals, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study showed.
Researchers caution that their findings are not generalizable — given the small sample size — but they say the methods give school lunch programs and parents potential tools to help children eat more nutritious meals at school.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 5 billion school lunches are served daily in the United States. Additionally, although 99.9 percent of American children aged 12 to 18 consume fruits and vegetables daily, less than 1 percent eat the federally recommended amount of those foods. So the UF/IFAS study could show helpful, albeit early, findings.
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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.
Photo of an Aedes aegypti mosquito.
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.
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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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If a city plants trees near a residential area, most homeowners value the likely subsequent boost to their property values, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.
And they’re willing to pay an average of $7 more per month in taxes for public trees planted in their city.
In the UF/IFAS study, 1,052 surveyed Florida homeowners said they’d like the trees on their land to provide shade and to be healthy, but they’d prefer an increase of $1,600 in their home’s value.
Residents were separated into two surveys. One asked them to consider a hypothetical home improvement project to better the trees on their property, while the other asked a similar referendum question regarding a city program that would increase their utility tax to increase urban forests in public areas near their homes. There were 526 responses to each survey.
PENSACOLA, Fla. — The morning of Aug. 6, snorkelers began combing the waters of Big Lagoon, an inlet southwest of Pensacola, in search of scallops. The week before, another group had done the same at various points along the Santa Rosa Sound. However, neither was interested in harvesting the shellfish, a pastime now prohibited due to the decline in scallop populations off Florida’s Gulf Coast over the last few decades.
These snorkelers are volunteer citizen scientists in the Great Scallop Search, a program co-sponsored by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, Florida Sea Grant, the U.S. National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The volunteers’ task was to count and record the scallops they found on the sea floor. “This data will go to FWC and help officials understand the scallop population in the Pensacola Bay system,” said Rick O’Connor, Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County and co-organizer of the program.
“Knowing how many scallops are there will inform any future efforts by FWC to reseed the area and try to bring the population back,” O’Connor said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In their quest to develop higher quality mandarins, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are zeroing in on the traits that will help them breed the best fruit.
Last year, they released the mandarin cultivar currently known as ‘7-6-27,’ which UF/IFAS researchers say is soaring with interest, and with more than 100,000 trees already ordered.
In a newly published study, Fred Gmitter, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor, and his colleagues, including doctoral student Yuan Yu, found genetic markers for fruit quality traits that will be useful in future cultivar-breeding efforts.
Scientists wanted to know whether, for example, genetic markers – or “signposts,” as Gmitter calls them — for qualitative and quantitative traits in one group of mandarins lined up with these traits in other mandarins. Qualitative traits would be such things as peel or flesh color, while quantitative traits would include weight, size or shape.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — You may eventually tempt your palette with more muscadine grape varieties, and they’ll be good for you, with new findings from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.
Muscadine grapes are known for their health benefits and other nutritive values – even for potential preventive measures against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The fruits are rich in antioxidants such as a ellagic acid and resveratrol.
Although scientists have done much research extracting and identifying these health benefits, the studies have looked at few commercial varieties. The new UF/IFAS study examined those benefits in 58 of the approximately 100 muscadine grape varieties.
UF/IFAS scientists, led by former post-doctoral researcher Changmou Xu, put the muscadine varieties through various tests over two growing seasons to see which ones passed muster for health, taste and smell genes.