Research center celebrates anniversary and expansion at the Florida Ag Expo
WE’RE OLD, BUT WE’RE NOT HARD OF HEARING. The Gulf Coast Research and Education Center is about to have a 90th birthday party on November 4. One of the reasons we’re throwing it is to hear from you. Not that we don’t talk throughout the year — GCREC’s researchers are in constant contact with growers, figuring out what they need and then going into the lab, greenhouse, and field to find it.
Don’t take it just from me. Tom O’Brien, of C&D Fruit and Vegetable Company, was recently quoted saying, “We rely on GCREC on a weekly basis, and we work very well together. We and the researchers bounce ideas off each other. The center is necessary for the survival of Florida agriculture.”
The 2015 Florida Ag Expo, though, is when you can all come at the same time and talk to us in a festive atmosphere. Come meet a chef talking about farm-to-restaurant, hear about our plans for a hops garden, applaud the ribbon cutting to open our new wing, and feed off the energy of the eight 20-somethings who have moved into our new grad student housing. You can register for the event at www.floridaagexpo.com.
I’d argue that what the University of Florida’s Institute of Agricultural and Life Sciences is celebrating at the Expo is that we have the secret to old age: Stay relevant. After decades of advances on how to better irrigate, fertilize, plant, protect, and market your crops, we’re not even close to done.
The ribbon cutting will open a 5,000-square-foot expansion of the GCREC that will serve as the working space for 17 researchers, graduate students, and visiting scientists. That brings the UF/IFAS team in Wimauma to 150, up from 75 a decade ago. That infusion of expertise increases our likelihood of achieving the tomato grower’s grail — a fruit that can be mechanically harvested. It also gives us a better shot at doing with pomegranates, peaches, hops, or blackberries what we did for blueberries: Create the cultivars that built a $75 million-a-year industry in Florida.
It’s always a two-way conversation at our research and education centers. We have expos so we can listen as well as present. The center will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Expo, but we’ve been in Hillsborough County for 90 years. When we closed our center in Bradenton, growers clamored for a replacement facility. You spoke, we listened, and UF/IFAS built GCREC. That’s how we stay relevant.
Just to make sure we hear you on November 4, we’ll even give you a microphone. The annual growers’ panel is one of the most popular events at the Expo. This year, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association President Mike Stuart will moderate a panel of three growers who will talk about the state of the agriculture industry.
You don’t have to be on a panel to talk to us, though. The more you can tell us about your challenges, the more we can focus on helping you surmount them. No one else does what we do for Hillsborough County-area growers — creating and sharing knowledge through research, teaching, and extension.
In some ways, growing a center is like growing crops. Just as you seek advice on how to grow better tomatoes, we’re always looking for input on what we can do to make the center serve you better.
After 90 years, it’s still a work in progress. It always will be, at least until every day is 65 degrees and sunny, bugs stop eating crops, and the water supply becomes infinite.
We believe we wear our age well at UF/IFAS and at GCREC. Center Director Jack Rechcigl is a good administrator and a good scientist, not only because of his keen mind, but because of a well-functioning pair of ears. He’s eager to use those ears on November 4. I’m eager to use mine, too, since I plan to come down from Gainesville. I hope you’ll give us that chance.
story by JACK PAYNE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.