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IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS scientists: Keep up your guard for West Nile virus

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

 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While Florida has never experienced a serious West Nile virus epidemic, UF/IFAS scientists caution the public to remain vigilant about this dangerous mosquito-borne illness.

Meanwhile, UF/IFAS researchers continue to study ways to nip the virus in the bud and monitor its spread. Researchers at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology in Vero Beach track rainfall, groundwater levels, mosquito abundance, wild bird populations and virus transmission to animals including horses and sentinel chickens. Researchers use these data to track the virus transmission between mosquitoes and wild birds, noting when mosquito infection rates reach the levels that can infect humans.

West Nile virus, first detected in the U.S. in New York City in 1999, and in Florida in 2001, has been confirmed hundreds of times nationally, and it can be lethal. For example, 779 cases (with 28 deaths) were reported in California in 2004, most from three southern California counties. The next summer, 880 cases (with 19 deaths) were reported in counties across the state.

The environmental conditions that favor West Nile virus transmission in Florida include very dry winter and early spring months, followed by heavy rainfall and short periods of drought – usually 10 to 14 days — in the late spring and early to mid-summer months.

Low winter temperatures also help to predict epidemic risk, especially in south Florida, said Jonathan Day, a professor at the UF/IFAS lab in Vero Beach. Years when exceptionally cold periods were reported in south Florida, such as 1977 and 1989, were followed by mosquito-borne virus epidemics.

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Downy mildew confirmed on popular purple velvet plants

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Downy mildew, a disease known to damage dozens of plant species in Florida, has now been found on purple velvet plants in South Florida, UF/IFAS scientists say.

Purple velvet plants are popularly used for foliage and cut flowers, said Aaron Palmateer, associate professor in plant pathology at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

“The upside to reporting any disease, especially aggressive diseases like downy mildew, is to get the word out,” said Palmateer, who co-authored a paper on the finding that appears online in the journal Plant Disease. “This allows growers to take preventive action and to start applying fungicides labeled for downy mildew before a disease outbreak, which is the ideal approach for disease management.

“The downside is the added expense of applying additional fungicides to control the downy mildew,” he said. “This is a disease that can kill the plant, so it’s a definite game-changer.”

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UF/IFAS study sheds light on how willing we are to adjust our energy bills

Topic(s): Economics, Environment, Families and Consumers, Finances, Green Living, IFAS, Research, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All it takes is six questions. You answer those, and University of Florida researchers say contractors will know how willing you are to upgrade your home for energy efficiency and whether you can afford the improvements.

Heating and cooling make up 54 percent of American households’ utility bills, a primary concern for Randy Cantrell, a UF/IFAS assistant professor and Extension specialist in housing and community development. For some people, their monthly energy bill comes as sticker shock. But we all react differently when we open the envelope, and Cantrell calls that response “botheredness.”

Cantrell wanted to know two things: how bothered people are by their energy bill and whether they can afford to do something about it. So he and Brad Sewell, a graduate research assistant, used a web-based survey of about 1,000 American homeowners to divide them into groups based on utility bill botheredness and budgetary constraints for household upgrades.

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UF/IFAS apps give irrigation, growing tips and more

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Green Living, IFAS, New Technology, Research, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Looking to save money and water when you irrigate? UF/IFAS scientists have developed an app for that. Want to know what plants to grow in your garden? You guessed it: UF/IFAS has an app for that as well.

UF/IFAS’ so-called “smart irrigation apps” include an urban lawn app that estimates how long you’ll need to water your lawn to meet current plant water demand. It uses a simplified approach for automated irrigation systems. This urban lawn model uses meteorological data to compute a simple, real-time weekly water balance, said Kati Migliaccio, UF/IFAS associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering and lead designer of the app. Find these apps and others at Smartirrigationapps.org.

“The turf app provides a free resource to determine a schedule to apply the right amount of water to landscapes, which is personalized based on user inputs,” Migliaccio said.

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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

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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.

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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 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)

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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.

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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 …)

Shining a red light to slow downy mildew on basil

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, IFAS, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Basil can add a little zest to any meal. But downy mildew disease threatens the herb’s very existence.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are trying to manage the disease with little or no spraying.

For his latest experiments, Shouan Zhang, a UF/IFAS plant pathology associate professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, inoculated basil plants with the downy mildew pathogen. The scientist then put the plants under red lights in a greenhouse and found the process is slowing down the disease’s growth.

Jaimin Patel, a postdoctoral research associate for Zhang, said they put one set of plants on a bench in the dark for 12 hours, starting at 8 p.m. each day. Another set of plants was placed under red lights for the same time period. The downy mildew appeared on plants in the dark six days after inoculation, while no symptoms showed up on the plants that were under the red lights, Patel said. They repeated the experiment and found the disease symptoms five days after inoculation on the plants placed in the dark – and still, little to no symptoms of the downy mildew was found on the basil plants exposed to the red lights.

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