New UF/IFAS Center Focused on Water, Land Use Issues
by ERIKA ALDRICH
Did you know that about 1,000 people move to The Sunshine State every day and constantly adding to the state’s population that is 21 million strong? This constant influx of new residents, coupled with Florida’s extensive agriculture industry, makes land and water usage across urban, suburban, and rural areas a hot topic.
To address this complex issue, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is creating The Center for Land Use Efficiency, which will bring together faculty and their related research from an array of different UF departments, centers, and programs to address land use issues like water and soil health. Led by Dr. Michael Dukes, a UF/IFAS professor of a professor of irrigation and water conservation and the Director of the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, the center will function to “bring faculty together around common themes and to help them identify funding opportunities that serve stakeholder needs,” according to Dr. Dukes.
The Center’s Formation
Dr. Dukes maintains that the center was born out of the idea that two heads are better than one. “IFAS saw a need to combine efforts in both urban horticulture and water and agricultural water related programs to capture synergies between the two fields and capitalize on knowledge of both,” he shares. Essentially, knowledge of water and land use gained through research, field trials, or other studies can be shared between urban and rural ag applications, and the center will help to ensure that knowledge is available and shareable.
Operating virtually, The Center for Land Use Efficiency will connect faculty from a variety of different departments and programs that all have land use—and especially water usage—as a focus of their field of specialty. “The center combines several separate IFAS programs ranging from urban horticulture (e.g. Florida Friendly Landscaping Program and the Master Gardener Volunteer Program) as well as urban water programs relating to horticulture (e.g. water conservation research) and stormwater related programs such as Low Impact Development,” Dr. Dukes explains. “It also includes the agricultural BMP program,” he adds.
Other departments that are involved in the center’s holistic, synergetic approach include the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE), the Program for Resource Efficient Communities, and all Extension services.
A Focus on Water and Soil
The Center for Land Use Efficiency will connect faculty across UF/IFAS’s different areas of focus to allow the sharing research. “The center will take knowledge from one area and apply to another where appropriate,” Dr. Dukes explains. “For example, I could see knowledge in water conservation/irrigation efficiency applied from one discipline to another (e.g. ag to urban or vice versa),” he adds.
Soil health is another area of focus where research in one field, such as agriculture, could be applied to another, such as urban land use. “Soil health is a popular topic these days. I think we could learn from agriculture and apply to urban landscapes so that we can have landscapes with healthier plants, less inputs needed if the soil is healthier which should result in less pollution leaving urban areas,” Dr. Dukes explains. Water and irrigation, soil health, nutrient management, and pest management are just of the few areas where data and research can be applied across agricultural, suburban, and urban specialties.
Florida’s agriculture industry has long focused on Best Management Practices, or BMPs, and the center will capitalize on such research, utilizing that knowledge in urban and suburban applications. “Agriculture faces an ever-competitive landscape. The challenge is to maintain agricultural productivity while protecting natural resources. The BMP research that we conduct and BMP education helps growers meet these sometimes divergent objectives,” Dr. Dukes shares.
That research into BMPS can be applied to urban and suburban issues, and vice versa. Over 5 million acres of ag land in Florida are part of BMP programs with almost 11,000 BMP projects implemented between 2005 and 2017. Research that has led to BMP recommendations for issues like minimizing off site water discharge and minimizing erosion potential could easily be transferred to areas important for suburban and urban land use, such as landscaping or stormwater runoff.
Similarly, research done for suburban and urban areas of focus can also be applied to ag-related issues. For example, research into the effects of spatial patterns of biodiversity on ecological functioning and services in urban and residential landscapes—such as the patterns of how weeds or pests invade an area—can easily find applications in ag settings.
Lastly, the center has a function beyond simply sharing research results; it will also increase the opportunity for UF/IFAS faculty to receive research funding. Funding is a major driver of the research completed at UF/IFAS, and having access to more funding through the leverage The Center for Land Use Efficiency will lead to better research in both quantity and quality, and that’s good news for everyone in living, working, and growing in Florida.