By J. Scott Angle
If you’re a regular reader of Central Florida Ag News, you may have seen the big news about a planned UF/IFAS ag tech center in Hillsborough County. This center is one of the best ways we know how to keep you globally competitive.
Simply put, innovation is what has kept Florida farmers a step ahead of the rest of the world for decades. We’re at a moment now where artificial intelligence is about to transform agriculture the way tractors, synthetic fertilizers, and genetics did in previous eras. We need to put you on the leading edge of this.
The UF/IFAS Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture will be a 19,000-square-foot facility right in your back yard at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.
It will be anchored by a workshop for developing precision ag machine prototypes. It will include offices, conference rooms and common areas designed to create the kinds of chance encounters that result in collaboration so our faculty can apply AI to your challenges.
The solutions can range from large machines to hand-held phone apps that help you make decisions in real time.
The idea, especially with technology like the apps, is to make AI accessible to every Hillsborough and Polk County farmer, and indeed every Florida farmer.
This is not just for farms of thousands of acres and the resources to invest in major machinery. We will build teams in AI research and Extension with the small farmer in mind. Our agents will not only be demonstrating the technologies but seeking your input to make sure we’re focused on the most relevant challenges you face.
The center is not a pie-in-the-sky aspiration. There is already huge momentum toward making our design renderings into brick and mortar.
GCREC Director Jack Rechcigl and Associate Director Nathan Boyd invited me to GCREC about a year ago to present their vision to me and to a council of stakeholders. The council unanimously supported the project, and several members urged us to move on this immediately.
Hillsborough County has already made a $1.5 million commitment to the center. Our advancement team is seeking private support. We’re requesting funding from the legislature in 2023.
The center will be our most important facilities investment in a generation. We’ll need support from Tallahassee and possibly Washington. You can help by supporting our legislative budget request. I hope it will be top of mind for those of you who participate in Florida Farm Bureau Day and the Taste of Florida Agriculture Reception at the Capitol on March 8.
A center will add momentum to a movement. It will be a declaration that Florida’s farmers and agricultural scientists are in the vanguard of feeding the world in a more sustainable way. It will be the epicenter of accelerated evolution of agriculture from human-labor-intensive to technology-driven.
We need to do this now. Global spending on smart technologies such as AI and machine learning directed toward agriculture is projected to triple in the next three years. There is enormous interest in scientific advancements giving us the opportunity to employ the land-grant university-industry-government partnership model to make major global impacts.
Help us imagine a future for agriculture that the center will help create, one where technology again keeps Florida globally competitive, producing our own food, employing Floridians, contributing to the local economy, and making Florida the leader in feeding the world.
There have been few moments in the history of UF/IFAS when the way to create the future is so visible and reachable. We have the experts to do it. The center will help unleash their talent and imagination.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).