by SCOTT ANGLE
To build a better blueberry, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is building a better blueberry lab. By mid-2022, we expect to complete U.S. higher education’s premier blueberry breeding headquarters.
It will allow us to expand the team dedicated to delivering Central Florida blueberry growers the cultivars to keep them profitable and globally competitive for decades to come. We’ve long had the best minds in blueberry breeding. Now, we’ll have a place to put even more of them.
Patricio Muñoz has doubled the size of his lab team in his four years as the university’s lead blueberry breeder, and he projects that in the next two to three years it will be triple what he started with in 2017.
I went to visit Patricio here on campus in Gainesville last month and was delighted to see that dirt was moving on the construction site.
Patricio and I talked about how the new facility will be the hub for breeding the cultivars that keep you in business and a step ahead of your international competitors.
A world-class facility will bring us world-class status. We’re going to build the blueberry equivalent of the UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, which immediately distinguished us as among the nation’s best in the science of pollinators and the support center for a burgeoning backyard beekeeping movement.
Before we even moved a shovel full of dirt, the vision of the blueberry building began attracting more minds. Muñoz recruited two top graduate students to join his team by showing them blueprints as well as blueberries, the plans to provide the tools to go from conception to creation.
The $4 million, 9,500-square-foot structure will build in collaboration and efficiency that’s been challenged by work from home or in staggered shifts imposed by the current cramped quarters. The expanded space will allow Munoz’s expanded team to test fruit from more sites in Central Florida and beyond.
It gives us space to pick up the pace for micropropagation. That will get new cultivars into your fields faster.
It won’t be the first UF/IFAS facility that blueberries built. Alto Straughn’s generosity made possible the construction a decade ago of the Extension professional development center that bears his name. The new building will not only house breakthroughs in breeding, but also a large lecture hall and laboratory classrooms to continue preparing College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students to become top professionals.
We have a national crisis in agricultural science infrastructure. A study done for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities last year estimates the national need for upgrades at $11.5 billion.
Government assistance is unlikely to meet that need. The blueberry building will be funded largely by royalties. We can do that because we have one of the nation’s most aggressive royalty reinvestment rates.
It’s a case of innovation begetting more innovation. The more successful we are, the more we can invest in your future success, and we look forward to it.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).