Developing and disseminating technologies for ag

Developing and disseminating technologies for ag

| Research coming out of UF/IFAS that is helping propel Florida agriculture into the future |

IN THE SPAN of three weeks this fall, UF/IFAS hosted three speakers on one of the most controversial topics in agriculture — genetically modified organisms.

Roger Beachy of the World Food Center at UC Davis recited a litany of challenges to innovation in agriculture to raise the question of whether some of the public harbors a powerful distrust of science itself.

World Food Prize laureate Robb Fraley of Monsanto passed out corn-shaped flash drives containing hundreds of studies that bear out the safety of GMOs.

Alison Van Eenannaam, a faculty member at UC Davis, shared a self-produced video that spoofs those who doubt the science behind GMOs.

We need more people like them: People who stand up for science. The public understandably needs to be educated to increase their understanding and allay their fears before they embrace new technologies. That’s why I’m glad this issue of Central Florida Ag News focuses on important ways that technology is improving agriculture. As the head of what is essentially Florida agriculture’s research and innovation arm, I’m especially proud of the work our scientists and Extension agents do in developing and disseminating technologies. Here is some of what they’re doing:

Dr. Reza Ehsani is working on using large field machines that could economically go tree-to-tree in a citrus grove and steam-blast each of them. Steam treating trees has been shown to kill the bacteria that causes citrus greening. That’s not a cure for greening because it can’t get to a tree’s roots, but mechanizing steam treatment could make it possible for a grower to save thousands of trees — and stave off the extinction of the state’s $9 billion citrus industry.

Dr. Bruce Welt is in the process of patenting a way to rapidly measure rates of gas transmission through packaging, which plays a major role in designing packaging to preserve quality and freshness of foods and other valuable products such as medicines, chemicals, and cosmetics.

UF/IFAS researchers are experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor crops, inspect levees, and assist in animal counts.

Dr. Bin Gao is developing better biochar (i.e., engineered biochar) — a form of charcoal derived from agricultural wastes that can be used as an environmental remediation agent, soil amendment, and carbon fixer to improve the sustainability of agricultural and environmental systems.

Others are working on how to convert plants into biofuel and even how some discarded plant material could be used to construct nanotubes that carry life-saving medicine to human cells.

Dr. Kati Migliaccio develops smartphone apps that provide irrigation schedules for citrus and strawberries based on water balance and real-time weather information. They help farmers conserve water and minimize nutrient leaching from the root zone.

Dr. Natalia Peres has developed a web-based advisory system that uses data such as temperature and leaf wetness to tell strawberry growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. It saves growers big money by helping them reduce spraying. She’s currently developing a similar system for blueberries.

Beyond our borders, though, technological advances are absolutely imperative if we’re going to meet the grand challenge of feeding a projected 9.6 billion people by 2050. The Green Revolution of the 1960s is credited with saving a billion people from starvation through technologies that increased grain yields.

To feed an additional two billion people on the planet by mid-century even as our water supply and arable land shrink, climate change threatens yields, new pests and diseases emerge and the economic and environmental costs of inputs rise, we must remain committed to developing agricultural technologies.

CREDITS

article by JACK PAYNE

photo (organic strawberry field) courtesy of UF/IFAS

Jack Payne is the senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.