GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When growers, Extension agents and scientists gather for the Nov. 4 Florida Ag Expo in Balm, Florida, they’ll celebrate two anniversaries: the 90th year of the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and the 10th year of the expo.
The Gulf Coast REC serves as an invaluable tool to growers and grower groups, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Company and former chairman of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, among other groups. He’s currently chairman of the Florida Tomato Committee.
“Because of the subtropical climate in Florida, which we grow in, and the continual introduction of new pests and diseases, we continue to face many challenges as growers that jeopardize the sustainability of our business and industry,” DiMare said. “Without the research to help identify new pests and diseases, and without furthering the work on the existing problems to help find solutions to minimize or eliminate the issues, we would not be able to stay competitive and survive.
“The research from GCREC has helped the tomato industry in many ways, from continuing to develop and enhance tomato varieties through the breeding program, to working on resistant or tolerant varieties to viruses and other diseases, which we as growers continually face,” he said. “Without the GCREC to do the research work and educate the growers about the challenges and remedies of the issues we face, we will not have a sustainable industry for the future of Florida, so the GCREC is extremely important to the industry.”
Center Director Jack Rechcigl added: “Over the past 10 years that the center has been at Balm, growers have come to depend on our researchers to assist them with their daily challenges of farming.”
The seeds for the Gulf Coast REC were sown in 1920, when a five-year epidemic of nailhead spot of tomato resulted in drastic losses in yield and taste. Five years later, in 1925, the University of Florida established the Tomato Disease Laboratory in Palmetto on 20 acres made available by Manatee County, due to the efforts of J. P. Harllee Sr., who, with other tomato growers, donated supplemental money and equipment.
That same year, UF scientists worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to introduce the Marglobe tomato cultivar, developed to resist nailhead spot. Later that year, researchers began to study strawberries in Plant City. And thus began the research to be conducted at the Gulf Coast REC.
While the history of the Gulf Coast REC began with tomatoes and strawberries, its present and future includes many commodities, including ornamental horticulture, pomegranates, blueberries and a variety of alternative crops that are up-and-coming in the state of Florida, Rechcigl said. The center also operates a regional diagnostic clinic to help growers identify and manage pest and disease problems on their crops.
Starting with 20 acres in 1925, the center moved to both Bradenton and Dover in the 1960s. UF/IFAS consolidated the Dover strawberry laboratory with the Bradenton Gulf Coast REC to its current location in Balm. In April 2005, UF/IFAS dedicated the current $16 million site on 475 acres.
This year also marks the Gulf Coast REC event, the 10th Florida Ag Expo.
Created as a way to showcase the Gulf Coast REC, the Ag Expo is a one-stop resource for all that concerns Florida fruit and vegetable producers. The day-long expo includes education sessions, grower round tables, field tours and demonstrations, as well as a large vendor show with up to 80 ag-related booths.
This year, the expo will include an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new 5,000-square foot addition, which will house 50 additional employees including graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists from around the world.
Caption: This is the front entrance of the University of Florida/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida, which celebrates its 90th anniversary Nov. 4.
Credit: UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Jack Rechcigl, 941-773-7587, email@example.com