by J. Scott Angle
About eight months ago, I brought UF President Ben Sasse to the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC). He met world-class agricultural scientists and world-class agricultural leaders from Hillsborough and Polk counties and beyond.
It must have made an impression. A couple of weeks later, he made me the provost—basically the university’s number two leader. And a couple of months later, Sasse did something no other president has done. He asked a faculty member not based in Gainesville to deliver the faculty address at commencement.
Sasse had met Dr. Natalia Peres on the tour. She showed Sasse, his son and an adviser how she was using technology to detect strawberry diseases.
In December, Sasse introduced her at commencement, saying: “I left that meeting in awe of how she and her colleagues are using artificial intelligence to help Florida’s strawberry growers defeat the diseases that threaten their crops – using something as accessible as the supercomputers we all have in our pockets.”
Peres returned to Balm after the ceremony to continue her work on behalf of local strawberry growers.
So when I attend the ribbon cutting some day for the Center of Applied Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture, it won’t be as the leader of UF/IFAS. As provost I continue to educate lawmakers and industry leaders about the many benefits of the center as we seek the rest of the funding in Tallahassee to allow us to build it.
UF/IFAS is in good hands. Rob Gilbert is the interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources who fully supports the AI center and GCREC. But we use “interim” loosely. He’s likely to be in the job for a couple of years, having started back in July when I took on my new duties.
The change wasn’t something I expected – and truth be told, I’ll miss hearing from you at the Florida Ag Expo, visiting Peres and other GCREC faculty, or going down the slide at Gary Wishnatski’s Wish Farms headquarters.
My new office is just a few steps from President Sasse’s. I plan to remind him that the world’s greatest strawberries are grown two hours south of here. Sometimes, I’ll drive the point home with clamshells full of berries like I did in January thanks to the generosity of Sizemore Farms and the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.
I hope to translate my access into more university attention to agriculture, more investments like the $2 million from a university strategic fund to launch our Crop Transformation Center, whose first target is a biotech breeding solution to HLB.
Please support Dr. Gilbert the way you supported me. And don’t forget about me. I won’t forget you, and I’ll do my best to make sure that President Sasse doesn’t either.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Provost. He served as UF’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) from July 2020 through January 2024.