University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers work to combat pasture weed

Topic(s): Agriculture, IFAS, Livestock, Research


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — According to University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers, spiderwort is becoming more common in north Florida, where it has the potential to invade pastures and disrupt hay production.

Professors Jason Ferrell and Brent Sellers, and biological scientist Michael Durham have co-authored a new UF/IFAS Extension document (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag407) explaining how to control the weed.

Notable for its purple flowers, spiderwort is often seen on roadsides and undisturbed areas, said Ferrell. Though this plant has been in Florida for a long time, “it’s now becoming more common to see it in pasture and feedlot areas. People are starting to wonder what it is and what they need to do about it,” he said.

Cattle will not eat spiderwort. When hay is harvested, any spiderwort that gets into the bales will add extra moisture and spoil the hay, Ferrell added.

When people started calling in and asking how to get rid of spiderwort on their properties, Ferrell and Sellers set up an experiment to find out how best to control it.

They found that the most effective chemical treatment controlled spiderwort for four to six weeks, after which the plants reappeared. Though they did not discover a treatment that completely eliminated the weed, they recommend that producers use this four- to six-week period to harvest their hay.

According to Sellers, spiderwort is more of an issue in north Florida and is less common in the south.

The best way to get rid of the plant is to remove it by hand, Ferrell said. However, “that is a very difficult, tedious process,” especially when one stand of spiderwort contains hundreds of plants, he said.

UF/IFAS Agronomy Photo by Michael Durham


By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Jason Ferrell, 352-392-7512, jferrell@ufl.edu

Brent Sellers, 863-735-1314 ext. 207, sellersb@ufl.edu

Yara International pledges $100,000 in scholarships to UF/IFAS students

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, CALS, IFAS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Yara International has pledged $100,000 in scholarships to students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Florida to study agriculture.

The five-year grant, called the Yara Crop Innovation Scholarship, will be split evenly between undergraduate and graduate students in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“One exciting aspect of this gift is the focus on undergraduate student research,” said UF/IFAS CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “In order for students to develop a love for research, they must be engaged early in their academic careers. Yara’s gift will open doors for students to pursue their science passions.”

Yara understands the important role played by agricultural research, said UF/IFAS Research Dean Jackie Burns. “Yara’s gift demonstrates they understand the larger picture, that we must invest in both research as well as future scientists,” Burns said. “Through their generosity, Yara is setting a strong example for other industry groups who wish to impact the next generation of agricultural researchers.”

According to Yara president and CEO, Svein Tore Holsether, innovation and collaboration have been two key themes throughout the company’s history. “By launching these scholarships, we are not only supporting local students, but it is a good way of working closely together with academia and farmers on           topics that really matter—and that contribute to increasing our shared global knowledge,” he said.


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

Source: Christy Chiarelli, 352-273-0353, ccw@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS study: Nutrition labels may lead to buying more raw seafood

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition, Research

Grouper and assorted seafood fillets on display at a store in case. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Please see caption below story

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If grocers put nutrition labels on packages of raw fish — a good nutrient source for cardiovascular health — parents may be more likely to buy the fish, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

Xiang Bi, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics, worked with her colleagues to survey 1,000 people online to gauge consumer reactions to raw fish with nutrition labels. Until 2012, federal rules only required nutrition labels on processed and commercial foods. That year, the federal government started requiring raw meat and poultry products to carry nutrition information on their labels. 

In the new study, researchers focused on three types of information: nutrition, health and a combination of nutrition and health. By putting the same nutrition label on raw seafood packages as consumers can find on raw packages of meat, consumers are more willing to buy the raw seafood, the study found. This finding may interest the seafood industry, grocers and policy makers, the study says.

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As backyard poultry takes off, UF/IFAS Extension teaches residents how to care for their flocks

Topic(s): Agriculture, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Livestock


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has become the go-to educational resource for Duval County residents who want to raise chickens in their own backyards.

When Jacksonville passed an ordinance in 2015 allowing hens on residential properties, city officials wanted to make sure that people understood the basics of backyard poultry before they were issued a permit, said UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Andy Toelle.

The city approached UF/IFAS Extension Duval County to create an educational program that would prepare prospective chicken owners. Residents must take the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County Backyard Poultry Seminar to get the certificate needed for the permit.

Toelle, UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Terra Freeman and UF/IFAS Extension Baker County director and poultry expert Mike Davis lead the seminar. They take pride in being the principal source of poultry education in the area. “We get calls every day about this program,” Freeman said.

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UF/IFAS study: More sea turtles survive with less beach debris

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Research


Sea turtle swimming through the water.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Conventional wisdom says removing beach debris helps sea turtles nest; now, as sea-turtle nesting season gets underway, a new University of Florida study proves it. In the study, clearing the beach of flotsam and jetsam increased the number of nests by as much as 200 percent, while leaving the detritus decreased the number by nearly 50 percent.

Sea turtles in Florida are classified as either endangered or threatened, depending on the species. Restoring their nesting habitats is critical to keeping them alive, said Ikuko Fujisaki, an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

With humans encroaching on their natural habitat, sea turtles face an uphill climb to stay alive, said Fujisaki, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, but they rely on sandy beaches to reproduce.

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UF/IFAS short course cultivates relationships millions of years in the making

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Extension, Green Living, IFAS, New Technology, Research

Mycorrhiziae under a microscope

Please see caption below story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Not all fungal infections are bad for plants—in fact, some of them are critical for plant survival, according University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

The UF/IFAS Applications and Analyses of Mycorrhizal Associations course teaches participants how to harness the power of these beneficial fungi. Andy Ogram, professor of soil and water sciences, and Abid Al Agely, senior biological scientist, co-founded the course.

Mycorrhizal fungi live in the soil and have a symbiotic relationship with plants. “The fungi actually function like part of the root systems,” and can be cooperative with 90 percent of plants, said Ogram. This mutually beneficial relationship is called a mycorrhizal association and is technically an infection, though a positive one.

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UF/IFAS study: Citizen scientists can help protect endangered species

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lay people can help scientists conserve the protected Florida fox squirrel and endangered species just by collecting data, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

So-called citizen scientists did a commendable job collecting information on the fox squirrel, according to the study.

Until this study, the conservation and management of fox squirrels in Florida was constrained by a lack of reliable information on the factors influencing its distribution. But with this research, which combines sightings and photos of fox squirrels by everyday citizens and professional ecologists, scientists now know they can get help from citizen scientists in conserving the fox squirrel population.

“When citizens are used in research to find animals across large scales, such as the state of Florida, they provide lots of information that is generally useful for conservation efforts,” said Bob McCleery, a UF/IFAS associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation. “We showed that data collected by citizens has a considerable amount of biases, but it is equal, if not better, than data collected by trained professionals. Additionally, regardless of its bias, citizen-collected data provided reliable predictions of fox squirrel occurrence and helped understand fox squirrel habitat relationships.”

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UF/IFAS Chef Bearl teams up with Bok Tower Gardens for Outdoor Kitchen opening

Topic(s): Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition


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LAKE WALES, Fla. — Forty Florida middle school students will learn to cook fresh, healthy meals with a professional chef, thanks to the partnership between University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and Bok Tower Gardens.

The cooking demonstration is set for May 20 and will celebrate the recent opening of the new Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden at Bok Tower Gardens, said Chef David Bearl.

The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden will inspire meals prepared with the seasonal fruits and vegetables grown onsite, said Tricia Martin, director of education at Bok Tower Gardens.

Martin worked with Bearl to design the kitchen with a chef’s needs in mind. The kitchen features state-of-the-art appliances, a wood-fired brick oven, granite countertops and seating for 40 people.

Before the cooking begins, students will pick fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden located next to the kitchen, said Martin. Back in the kitchen, Bearl will coach groups of students as they add these ingredients to their pizzas. Bearl also plans to emphasize food and kitchen safety, including how to use a cutting board and proper hand washing.

Local high school students who are part of their school’s culinary program will work as Bearl’s sous chefs and act as mentors for the middle schoolers.

When all the healthy toppings have been added, participants will watch their pizzas cook in the wood-fired oven and enjoy the tasty results.

Bearl hopes the students will be so excited about making their own food they won’t care that the pizza crust is whole-wheat or that they are eating vegetables. “I want them to like fresh, minimally processed food, and to go home and have their parents make it,” he said.

And if those parents take their children grocery shopping, they might start to hear, “Hey Mom, I want some kohlrabi!”’ Bearl said.

In addition to teaching kids about nutrition and where their food comes from, Martin sees the cooking demonstration as chance to show youth career opportunities in the culinary arts.

This event will further strengthen the partnership between UF/IFAS and Bok Tower Gardens, and help serve the mission of both institutions to encourage healthy living and appreciation of natural resources, Martin said.

The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden “represents the goals of the partnership to provide experiential education that’s going to enrich people’s lives,” Martin said.

“Bok Tower is a teaching institution,” said Bearl, “and these kinds of partnerships only help spread the word about UF/IFAS.”

Bearl trains program assistants in the UF/IFAS Family Nutrition Program and is the UF/IFAS Farm to School chef. He is certified by the American Culinary Federation.


Caption: Chef Bearl handing a boy a healthy snack at the Brevard Farmer’s Market. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: David Bearl, 904-669-1340, david.bearl@ufl.edu

Tricia Martin, 863-332-0742, tmartin@boktower.org

New UF/IFAS Extension location ups visibility, opportunities

Topic(s): Announcements, Extension, IFAS

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida IFAS Extension Hernando County agents and staff are settling into their new office at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center, and they couldn’t be happier with the change of scene.

Until recently, the UF/IFAS Extension office was housed with the Hernando County building department. This location was “far off the beaten trail,” said Stacy Strickland, the UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County director.

Both Strickland and the county administration agreed that the office needed a more prominent location. They started making plans in February to find the office a new address.

Strickland likes that the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center is closer to residential communities and potential UF/IFAS Extension clientele.

The move benefits both the UF/IFAS Extension office and its new neighbors because these businesses now have a connection to the University of Florida, said Valerie Pianta, economic development manager for Hernando County.

For example, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County has connected one of the manufacturers in the technology center with the University of Florida’s engineering department, Strickland said.

The center houses 125 businesses that employ 2,500 people, said Valerie Pianta. “This is an excellent central location for Dr. Strickland and his staff for what they are doing today. We are interested in having that kind of partner at our tech center,” she said.

“We certainly remember our agricultural, 4-H, FCS, and urban horticulture roots, and intend to serve those clientele while looking at new opportunities to serve the citizens of Hernando County,” Strickland said, adding that he wants to take advantage of the new location when creating future programs.  “I think that we can have a new take on some of our traditional programs such as 4-H. We’ve discussed aviation camp for our 4-H youth,” he said.

“I think what we have to do is look into the future and satisfy the clientele that we may have in the future,” he said. “I think this is going to put us in a really good position to do that.”


By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Stacy Strickland, 352-754-4433, jsstick@ufl.edu

Valerie Pianta, 352-540-6400, vpianta@hernandocounty.us

Warriors on the Water event to host veterans on May 15

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — The Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park will host a free event—Warriors on the Water—for local veterans and their spouses on Sunday, May 15th, from 8:30 am until 1:00 pm.  Warriors on the Water is designed to connect veterans with the serenity and wonder of Florida’s natural systems. The event is co-hosted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Florida Master Naturalists – St. Lucie Chapter.

Participants will have the opportunity to enjoy guided interpretive walks through the pine flatwoods, take a one-hour guided kayak trip through the pristine Savannas basin marsh and tour the Savannas Education Center.  Participants may also peruse display tables hosted by local businesses, and enjoy a free lunch sponsored by the Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park and park volunteers.

“We could not offer this event without the support of our park volunteers and partners,” says Wren Underwood, Park Services Specialist at Savannas Preserve State Park. “Warriors on the Water is truly a community event and involves many partners, including Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, UF/IFAS Florida Master Naturalists – St. Lucie Chapter, Heroes on the Water, Fleet Feet, South River Outfitters, and Sea Coast Bank.  Everyone wants to be a part of this give-back event.”

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