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University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers turn seed into jet fuel for Navy and crops into cash for farmers

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Imagine jet fuel made from a crop that’s renewable, brings in income and can feed cattle. Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have found a way to turn Ethiopian mustard seed into a winning solution for local farmers and the United States Navy.

UF/IFAS plant pathologist Jim Marois is leading the effort to make the jet fuel from seed. “It’s renewable, does not have to be blended as with other biofuels and it’s not harmful to the environment,” said Marois, who is stationed at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida.

Marois and other researchers are using a grant from the United States Navy and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study how to best grow Ethiopian mustard and determine which varieties work best in Florida. Florida, Canada and South Dakota are working to meet the Navy’s 8-million-barrel goal by 2020.

Two years ago, IFAS researchers started out with 20 acres of Ethiopian mustard at the North Florida REC in Quincy, Florida. Last winter, they grew 3,500 acres; this winter they expect to grow 25,000 acres.

Studies show that fuel from the Ethiopian mustard seed produces half the black carbon (incomplete combustion) exhaust as fossil fuel, Marois said. Also, with its higher flash point, the fuel is safer for use on Navy ships where fires are a real threat, he said.

Local farmers benefit, too, Marois said. The seed is a great winter crop that allows farmers to make money in the offseason. “The mustard seed not only brings in income, but also reduces erosion and creates better summer crops,” he said. “The project benefits the Navy, local farmers and cattle, who are fed the crushed seeds. It’s a win-win for everyone.”


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Jim Marois, 850-875-7120, jmarois@ufl.edu


UF/IFAS Researchers: State’s agritourism industry is soaring

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Every weekend from October to early November, thousands of families line up to traverse the Sweet Season Farms eight-acre corn maze in Milton, Florida, tucked into the northwest tip of the state. A few hundred miles away in south Florida, other residents spend their weekends visiting Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery, part of the state’s burgeoning wine-making industry.

“It used to be, even just 20 years ago, that all that Florida offered in agricultural tourism was u-pick farms where visitors could pick their own fruits,” said Taylor Stein, associate professor of ecotourism in the School of Forest Services and Conservation, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Now, we have small, family-owned farms offering fall festivals, corn mazes tours, wine tastings and other activities. Agritourism in Florida is growing every year.”

Florida’s top two industries are tourism and agriculture, said Edward “Gilly” Evans, associate professor and associate director of IFAS Global who is based at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. “It just made sense to combine the two to create an even bigger economic impact for farmers and the state, reduce the friction between farmers and urban dwellers by demonstrating how agriculture can conserve natural resources, and provide more recreation for the public,” he said. “Farmers can no longer concentrate on only growing crops; they also have to think about how to grow their revenues.”

Corn Maze

Amy Perryman, whose family owns Coon Hollo Farms in Micanopy in central Florida, grew a new vision for the family farm after visiting a corn maze in Jacksonville. “I absolutely fell in love with the idea of offering events at the farm. I like working with people and I’m a teacher at heart,” said the UF/IFAS alumna and former Extension agent for Baker County. “Plus, I was looking for a way to join the family farm without taking income from my parents.”

It took another five years before Perryman could convince her father that a corn maze was the way to go. “He couldn’t understand why anybody would pay to walk in the fields,” Perryman said.

The family opened the gates to their first 10-acre corn maze on fall weekend in 2009, and expected 2,000 to 3,000 visitors. Ten thousand showed up. “That’s when we knew we were onto something. Now, my sisters sell drinks, my grandmother sells jam, jellies and produce, and we offer hayrides, horseback riding, even weddings.”

Perryman and her family design and create their own corn maze. Others, like Trent Mathews, owner of Sweet Seasons Farms in Milton, pay companies to come up with the design. Last year’s design was of pro golfer and Milton native Bubba Watson.

“We come up with the idea of what we want, but we partner with a maze company out of Utah to create the design,” said Mathews, a UF/IFAS graduate and district conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Jay.

The family business has exploded. “We started with a five-acre maze. Currently, we have an eight-acre corn maze, a play area, a pumpkin patch, 20 acres for hayrides, and seven acres for parking,” Mathews said. “The events run for six weeks, and last year we had more than 27,000 people.”

Farmers are getting lots of help from local and state officials. In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed SB 1106, a bill that protects and strengthens agritourism opportunities for state farmers and ranchers. Before this law, farmers were faced with several barriers to agritourism. These include zoning laws and a heavy burden of liability.

“There used to be a massive insurance cost associated with agritourism. Now, the insurance companies understand the industry better and are more willing to work with farmers,” Stein said. Also, local zoning ordinances kept farmers from opening their farms to new business opportunities, and sometimes, neighbors balked at such a venture in their backyard.


Agritourism has grown so rapidly in the state that several farms now operate wineries. There is a special certification program for Florida Farm Wineries, which requires that a winery must produce or sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine each year, maintain at least 10 acres of vineyards in Florida, must apply for the program each year, must pay a $100 registration fee, and must be open to the public for tours, tasting and sales at least 30 hours a week, according to the state agritourism law.

Wineries that participate in the Florida Farm Wineries Program then become certified Florida Farm Wineries. This means that the winery is recognized as a state tourist attraction and it may display the Florida Farm Winery logo.

In south Florida, the Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery went from being a small family farm, to being the country’s southernmost winery. The owners, Peter and Denise Schnebly, set a goal for themselves of starting an agritourism business based from their farms in the Redlands of South Florida. Their vision was to provide tours to visitors of their 96 acres of exotic tropical fruits and gourmet vegetables that they grow and market fresh through their produce company Fresh King, Inc.

In the spring of 2003, the couple’s friend convinced them to start a winery featuring wines made from the tropical fruit that they grew. Sustainable farming became a top priority as the Schneblys boast that each mango, lychee, guava, passion fruit and Carambola is personally picked for fermentation.

“UF/IFAS researchers at Tropical REC were members of a team that did a tremendous amount of work to help change some of the laws to get the Schnebly farm certified as a winery,” Evans said. “Now, besides the winery there is an alligator farm, fruit stand, tours of the farm and brewery for specialty beers—all part of what is known as the Historic Redland Tropical Trail. We never could have predicted how successful this endeavor would have become.”

The future of agritourism in Florida is bright, Evans said. “When we first studied agritourism, we truly underestimated the success that would come,” he said. “Now, it’s anyone’s guess on how much of an economic impact this will make on the state and on local farmers. All the necessary components are there to help farmers keep their land, help the public understand the importance of locally grown food and help the state increase revenue.”


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Sources: Taylor Stein, 352-846-0860, tstein@ufl.edu


Escambia County Extension Office Hosts Grand Opening, Festival on May 2

Topic(s): Uncategorized

CANTONMENT, Fla. — UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County will hold an open house, building dedication and Master Gardener Spring Festival on May 2.

Festivities begin at 8 a.m. with festival activities. At 9 a.m. Extension hosts the dedication of the new Langley Bell 4-H Center at 3730 Stefani Road, Cantonment, Florida.

“Escambia County 4-H has a bright future ahead with new facilities, new 4-H staff and funding to carry it to preeminence nationwide.  Our goal and mission is to grow this program throughout the county and create positive 4-H youth development opportunities,” said Pamela Allen, UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County director.  “There is a definite excitement among the youth, volunteers, staff and community supporters.  Our prospects to make a difference in the lives of youth are endless.”


Residents, Escambia County commissioners, 4-H youth, and Escambia County Extension staff will enjoy tours of the new building, highlighting areas for hands-on learning for all Escambia County children, ages 8 to 18.  The original donation of 400 acres was given in 1943 by Minnie and Langley Bell. The property had been overcut for timber and was waiting to be reborn for a 4-H center ripe with enthusiasm and educational programs that promoted agriculture, silviculture and natural resource conservation.

The property was given to Escambia County 4-H in a trust with the Board of County Commissioners serving as trustees. 4-H is the youth development program of U F/ IFAS Extension. . This partnership has worked for over 72 years and continues with the completion of the facility on 9 ½ and Stefani Road in Cantonment next to the UF/IFAS Extension building.

The original 4-H property was sold in 2012 to Navy Federal Credit Union, which created a new opportunity for 4-H facilities. Funds from the sale were used to purchase 108 acres in Molino where the new 4-H Animal Science and Outdoor Center is being developed

“Escambia County 4-H traditions have a strong foundation with the many successes of the past and will no doubt be carried forward with our new Langley Bell 4-H Center and the new 4-H property in Molino.  A new generation of 4-Hers will now be served in a way that is unparalleled in facilities, financial support and community involvement,” said Brian Bell, president of the Escambia County 4-H Foundation and also the grandson of the original donors of the property, Minnie and Langley Bell. “My grandparents, Uncle Bill (Langley Bell, Jr.), and my father would be ecstatic to see how 4-H has used that initial donation of land to further its mission and serve so many more youth in this community.”

The Master Gardener Spring Festival will include a variety of activities and goods, including growing plants from seeds, propagation methods, plant sale, plant clinic, exotic vegetables and fruits, Day Lily bulb sale, refreshments sale, demonstration garden tours and tractor display.

For more information, call UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County at 850-475-5230, or visit Escambia.ifas.ufl.edu.


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufle.edu


Source: Pamela Allen, 850-475-5230, pha@ufl.edu

Survey: Floridians care about endangered species, want to know more

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Floridians are passionate about conserving and protecting plants, animals and their habitats, but they feel woefully uninformed, according to a survey by the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“People seem to want to do the right thing, but don’t necessarily know what that is or how to go about it,” said Ricky Telg, PIE Center director. The center conducts four public opinion surveys every year that focus on key issues to Floridians.

An online survey of 502 Floridians showed that only a quarter of residents believed they had seen news coverage of endangered species in the past month. But, 85 percent said they would pay attention to future coverage.

More than half of those surveyed didn’t know what species were endangered in Florida, while many were also unaware of government, industry or policy impacts on endangered species.

Despite feeling uninformed, a majority of Floridians surveyed—almost 90 percent—would support or strongly support imposing fines on people who harm endangered species. Also, 88 percent agreed with imposing fines on those who harm habitats of endangered species.

When respondents were asked to prioritize which native species should be conserved, 90 percent agreed that mammals should be saved, followed by birds at 85 percent, and fish and plants at 84 percent. Floridians felt reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and microorganisms were the least important to protect.

In addition, 79 percent of Floridians agreed that the importance of maintaining a diverse ecosystem was the most important criteria to consider when prioritizing which species to protect. More than 70 percent identified the severity and urgency of the threat to endangered species as major concerns, but fewer than 30 percent prioritized the size, intelligence or attractiveness of the species.

Survey respondents said they were more likely to engage in conservation by donating to organizations and visiting zoos and museums compared to joining an organization. Floridians also showed mixed results when evaluating current policies and punishments for interfering with endangered species. More than half believed that lighting restrictions protecting sea turtles should be strengthened, while almost 60 percent felt penalties for harming gopher tortoises or their habitat were adequate.



By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Ricky Telg, 352-273-2094


Third Annual UF/IFAS South Florida Bee College event returns Aug. 14-15

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The state’s biggest educational event for honey bee hobbyists, professionals and anyone interested in honey bees has expanded to South Florida, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences officials announced this week.


UF’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is hosting its third annual South Florida Bee College at the UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 14 and 15 in Davie, Florida.


The two-day event offers classes for all ages and experience levels, from novice to seasoned beekeeper.  This year’s schedule includes more than 40 classes. “Whether you are starting your own beekeeping endeavor or merely have an interest in honey bees, there is a class for all levels,” said Lyndall Brezina, the extension technician with the UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory Department of Entomology and Nematology.


The Junior Bee College, an all-day event on Saturday, Aug. 15, is open to children ages 6 through 16. Participants will learn everything from basic entomology and bee biology to practical beekeeping through hands-on, fun, interactive, games and lessons.


Participants in Bee College are also welcome to showcase their home-made bee products and other bee-related material in the South Florida Bee College Honey Show, one of the state’s largest competitions of its kind. The competition includes 20 entry classes, from comb honey, to extracted honey, and even beekeeping gadgets. Visit www.ufhoneybee.com for rules.


Special guest speakers for the event include Jerry Hayes, former Florida Chief Apiary Inspector and current Lead Honey Bee Expert for Monsanto who will host a question and answer session. Entomologist experts in honey bees, and the fields of chemical ecology, pesticides and pest management will also lead workshops.



Participants must register by Aug. 14 at eventbrite.com, keywords South Florida Bee College 2015. For more details about the event, please visit www.UFhoneybee.com.


The cost is $135 per person to attend for one day or $185 for two days. Family and other discount rates are offered.



By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Lyndall Brezina, 352-273-3932, lbrezina@ufl.edu


UF/IFAS RECs hold workshops during International Year of Soils

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is offering workshops at various research and education centers to celebrate the 2015 International Year of Soils. The workshops, aimed primarily toward high school agriscience and science teachers, are free and open to the public.

“The workshops are for any teacher who wants to incorporate more soil-based information into his or her lessons,” said Libbie Johnson, agriculture agent at Escambia County Extension. Researchers will discuss soil texture, how soils protect the environment, water retention and movement, Johnson said.

Workshops will be held:

  • July 20 at Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, 2685 SR 29 North, Immokalee, Florida 34142. 239-658-3400. Register at https://eventbright.com/event/16767084802
  • July 28 at Range Cattle Research and Education Center, 3401 Experiment Station, Ona, Florida, 33865. 863-735-1314. Register at https://ventbrit.com/event/16658529109

Participants can register online, or call the REC location listed above. In-service credit for professional development are awarded by the school districts through Master Inservice Plan. Certificates of attendance will be provided.

Events were held at five other RECS earlier this summer and around the world at other sites. Researchers hope to convey the important role that soil plays in everyday life, Johnson said.

“Soil is living, so there are a lot of organisms in soil that are useful to our health,” she said. “We want participants to walk away with information that they can share with students, but also to convey that humanity’s wellbeing is tied to soil and we need to protect it.”



By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Libbie Johnson, 850-475-5230, libbiej@ufl.edu


State budget renews, eliminates vital UF/IFAS programs

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received good and bad news in the final budget passed by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

The state budget gives UF/IFAS funding for its ongoing operations and the resources to hire much needed faculty, some who were cut in previous budgets.  Funding was also appropriated for specific projects including $1 million for the beef teaching unit; $1 million for the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center; and $2 million for research on the deer population.

“We are grateful to the Legislature for providing IFAS with $5.5 million to restore about 40 science jobs cut during the recession, and $1 million to combat citrus greening,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources at UF/IFAS. “The legislature really acknowledged IFAS as the research arm of the $140 billion commercial agriculture industry.”

Meanwhile, cuts to the IFAS quarantine center at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce mean the program will likely end, Payne said. The legislature had approved an $180,000 increase—the first since 2004. But Scott cut all funding, $720,000, for the quarantine facility.

The potential loss of the Fort Pierce quarantine facility, the only invasive exotic quarantine facility in Florida, is heartbreaking, Payne said. Florida has the largest invasive infestations in the nation. Invasive species cost Florida approximately $100 million a year, he said.

The quarantine lab has played an important role in curbing invasive species in Florida. For example, researchers at the facility helped control the invasive weed, the tropical soda apple, through the release of 250,000 South American beetles. The move saved cattle ranchers about $5.75 million a year, Payne explained.

The center was poised to release the first biological control agent against the Brazilian peppertree, which is native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The tree has moved around the world as an ornamental plant, and in Florida, it has infested nearly 700,000 acres in the central and southern regions. It has been particularly abundant in the Everglades.

In general, the trees take over space where native plants should be. Animals such as white-tailed deer, the Florida panther and migratory birds that depend on native vegetation, such as mangrove, for food and shelter are deprived of that habitat.

According to Payne, the scientists at the quarantine facility also discovered potentially useful biological control agents of highly invasive cogon grass. Both the Brazilian peppertree and cogon grass are critical threats to Florida’s natural ecosystem.

In addition, UF/IFAS lost $300,000 that funds a Water Pollution Study, which looks at the impact of street sweepers on the pollution that runs into storm drains. And, the institute lost $2.5 million that would have slated for a state of the art honeybee research center.

“We will continue to do great work at UF/IFAS, and look forward to working with the governor during the next session to pursue funding for those programs that were not approved,” Payne said.


By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu


Source: Jack Payne, 352-392-1971, jackpayne@ufl.edu


UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County to Offer Water Quality Tours July 22-24

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Residents who want to know about water quality, conservation and pollution may dive in to the Water Quality Tours offered by the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Office. The tours will be July 22 to 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Freedom Community Center, 7340 SW 41 Place, Gainesville, Florida 32608.

The tour will provide research-based information about water resources, conservation and best use practices. The tour stops will include urban and springs watersheds, and agricultural operations.

“One of IFAS’s main initiative is to educate people on water quality. We want to educate citizens on water issues, such as urban flow and agricultural flow,” said Cindy Sanders, center director for Extension Alachua County. “We will share best management practices for farmers and city residents. We want to come up with a happy medium where we all work together, urban and rural, to use water wisely.”

The bus will leave each day from the Freedom Community Center at 9 a.m. (Please arrive by 8:45 a.m. for check-in.) Registration fee is $40 for the three-day tour  and includes lunches and bus fee.

Registration will be limited to the first 50 pre-paid registrants. To reserve your seat, please pay in advance to the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Office, 2800 NE 39 Avenue, Gainesville, Florida.

For more information about this program, please call 352-955-2402.

By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Source: Cindy Sanders, 352-955-2402, sanders1@ufl.edu


New Unit Leader of the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to support UF/IFAS

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit announced that Abby Powell will join as Unit Leader and will be a contributing graduate faculty member for University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.


Powell will further address the natural resource challenges in the State of Florida with her significant experience in Cooperative Research Units and principal research interests in avian ecology, coastal systems and endangered species.Powell will coordinate with the UF/IFAS and the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation to administer wildlife and fishery research grants, and will respond to the research and training needs of graduate students.


Powell’s appointment will “complement and expand [Florida Cooperative’s] capabilities, as well as maintain the synergistic relationship the UF/IFAS Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation has with them,” says Eric Hellgren, Professor and Chair of the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.


As unit leader of the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Powell will manage the unit’s scientific and administrative operations. Powell said this includes building new partnerships with state, federal, and other conservation agencies and groups.


Mike Allen, associate director of the UF/IFAS Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said he sees opportunities as Powell comes aboard.


“The Florida Co-op Unit has been an excellent mechanism for collaboration between fisheries and wildlife scientists in IFAS,” Allen said. “Abby Powell’s research experience addressing marine bird populations should provide an excellent opportunity to further those efforts and develop innovative research for aquatic systems.”



“Powell is well-positioned to lead Florida Cooperative to solve population, community and ecosystem issues, both natural and those impacted by human activities,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources


Powell starts her new position Sept. 6.




By: Tiffani Stephenson, 352-273-3569, tsteph220@ufl.edu


Sources: Mike Allen, 352-273-3624


Eric Hellgren, 352-846-0552


Jack Payne, 352-392-1971


Abby Powell, 907-474-5505


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