by James Beverly, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
When the staff at the University of Florida IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center decided to transform the facility’s farm, their only thought was helping local growers to succeed. Little did they know that their efforts would exceed all of their expectations.
The UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center, in Live Oak, Florida was recently honored with the 2017 Prudential Productivity Award. The award recognizes innovation, efficiency, and productivity.
A growing need for farmers to adapt to modernization requirements by the state spurred changes at the Suwannee Valley center’s farm.
“The state of Florida encouraged farmers to enroll in best management practices to conserve water and reduce nitrate leaching,” said center director Robert Hochmuth. “The growers were eager to adopt best practices, but had little knowledge or understanding of the value and economics of these tools and practices.”
Researchers began making changes at the UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center and its farm two years ago. “We had two goals in mind: become more efficient and modernize the center’s operations, and be in a better position to teach and demonstrate to farmers how to adopt changes to their farms,” Hochmuth said.
In 2012, there were approximately 8,833 farms in Suwannee Valley. The region comprises 19 percent of Florida’s total number of farms, Hochmuth said. With a more than $1 billion impact on the state, Suwannee Valley agriculture has become more prominent, he said.
“The challenge is to protect the quantity and quality of water,” Hochmuth said. “The center has to be in a position to help farmers in this region take on best management practices.”
UF/IFAS Extension faculty have added remote control capability to the center’s farm irrigation system, which allows for additional research that could not be done before, Hochmuth said. “The new system allows us to designate each plot of land with different irrigation rates. We can then determine the best use of water, fertilizer, and nutrients,” he said.
The team also added a variable fertilizer system to target the use of the product to specific areas, Hochmuth said. And, tractors have GPS now, so there are more efficient passes on the farm, he said. “We are using modern practices that are being deployed by farmers to help them adopt that kind of technology,” he said.
According to Hochmuth, a team effort led to the modernization of the farm. “We worked hard to make sure we have the most up-to-date knowledge, equipment, and practices to help local growers adopt the most efficient practices,” he said. “The award is just validation that we are working in the right direction.”
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