The red thread that binds: What connects UF/IFAS with Florida farmers

TEACHING, RESEARCH AND OUTREACH are the core of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), which is a premier institution within the land-grant university system. But it is the research that is the red thread that connects UF/IFAS with the production of food, biofuel, and the responsible stewardship of Florida’s natural resources. [emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]

In today’s global economic climate, the mission of education, research, and outreach are critical to job creation, economic development, food security, food production, and food safety. The land-grant system also is critical to human health and nutrition, water quality, and natural resource conservation.

There is strong and consistent evidence that investment in agricultural research has yielded high returns per dollar spent. These returns include benefits not only to the farm sector, but also to the food industry and consumers in the form of more abundant commodities at lower prices. And land-grant research is constantly challenged to discover new economic paths: value-added agriculture, renewable energy, bio-based products — all illustrating the land-grant vision of “knowledge that works.” UF/IFAS’ research and development partnership with Florida’s farmers provides open access to unequaled researchers and their work that focuses on finding solutions for relevant issues, including invasive species, diseases, and water, while improving their operations and increasing their bottom line.

Unfortunately, the UF/IFAS bottom line is challenged to keep pace with Florida’s agricultural and natural resource needs. Indeed, UF/IFAS’ research and development role, which has helped advance Florida’s economy, is facing a funding drought. A September 2012 report from the National Science Board cited that state support for public research universities fell 20 percent between 2002 and 2010, after accounting for inflation and increased enrollment. The frequent cuts to higher education budgets at the state and federal level not only threaten the livelihood of every Florida agricultural stakeholder, but also undermine our leadership as a global food provider and our continued access to quality, affordable food.

The state of Florida invests approximately $131 million annually in agricultural research and extension, which in return contributes about $1.3 billion in economic benefits to the state, based on a 10:1 benefit-cost ratio determined by the USDA. It is critical that our state decision-makers understand that every dollar allocated to UF/IFAS is an investment in our state’s future. We need a united front of stakeholders and decision-makers to ensure that the state and federal government’s investment in agricultural research and development through its land grant institutions continue to be a priority.

Currently, some members of Congress have expressed concern about the health and competitiveness of the nation’s colleges and universities. There are those who continue to maintain that the long-term competitiveness of the nation is linked to the strength of the academic research infrastructure. It has been shown that academic research is integrated into the economy and has an impact at both the local and national level. By one estimate, approximately 80 percent of leading industries have resulted from research conducted at colleges and universities. Colleges and universities are the primary performers of basic research, with the federal government being the largest funding source.

Last year, IFAS research brought in $112.9 million of competitive grants and contracts; of that, roughly two percent came from companies and corporations and 14 percent from foundations (mostly industry based), so our industry stakeholder grants and contracts were roughly 15 to 16 percent of the total. The rest is comprised of federal agencies (72 percent), state agencies (six percent), local and regional government (mostly water management districts; five percent), and other (one percent).

We know that everyone must eat to live, and they must have a world fit to live in, so the bedrocks of what drives IFAS agriculture and agribusiness — natural resources and people, from individuals to families to communities — will be with us always. In many ways, our work is at the core of life. I like to say that we’re in the business of healthy people, healthy economies, and healthy environment.


article by JACK PAYNE, Sr.

Jack Payne, Sr., is vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. [/emember_protected]

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