House keys with a house key chain

The University of Florida IFAS Extension Hernando County agents and staff are settling into their new office at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center, and they couldn’t be happier with the change of scene.

Until recently, the UF/IFAS Extension office was housed with the Hernando County building department. This location was “far off the beaten trail,” said Stacy Strickland, the UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County director.

Both Strickland and the county administration agreed that the office needed a more prominent location. They started making plans in February to find the office a new address.

Strickland likes that the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center is closer to residential communities and potential UF/IFAS Extension clientele.

The move benefits both the UF/IFAS Extension office and its new neighbors because these businesses now have a connection to the University of Florida, said Valerie Pianta, economic development manager for Hernando County.

For example, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County has connected one of the manufacturers in the technology center with the University of Florida’s engineering department, Strickland said.

The center houses 125 businesses that employ 2,500 people, said Valerie Pianta. “This is an excellent central location for Dr. Strickland and his staff for what they are doing today. We are interested in having that kind of partner at our tech center,” she said.

“We certainly remember our agricultural, 4-H, FCS, and urban horticulture roots, and intend to serve those clientele while looking at new opportunities to serve the citizens of Hernando County,” Strickland said, adding that he wants to take advantage of the new location when creating future programs.  “I think that we can have a new take on some of our traditional programs such as 4-H. We’ve discussed aviation camp for our 4-H youth,” he said.

“I think what we have to do is look into the future and satisfy the clientele that we may have in the future,” he said. “I think this is going to put us in a really good position to do that.”

Sources: Stacy Strickland, 352-754-4433,

Valerie Pianta, 352-540-6400,

Photo by MarsBars/iStock

Chef David Bearl

Forty Florida middle school students will learn to cook fresh, healthy meals with a professional chef, thanks to the partnership between University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and Bok Tower Gardens.

The cooking demonstration is set for May 20 and will celebrate the recent opening of the new Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden at Bok Tower Gardens, said Chef David Bearl.

The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden will inspire meals prepared with the seasonal fruits and vegetables grown onsite, said Tricia Martin, director of education at Bok Tower Gardens.

Martin worked with Bearl to design the kitchen with a chef’s needs in mind. The kitchen features state-of-the-art appliances, a wood-fired brick oven, granite countertops and seating for 40 people.

Before the cooking begins, students will pick fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden located next to the kitchen, said Martin. Back in the kitchen, Bearl will coach groups of students as they add these ingredients to their pizzas. Bearl also plans to emphasize food and kitchen safety, including how to use a cutting board and proper hand washing.

Local high school students who are part of their school’s culinary program will work as Bearl’s sous chefs and act as mentors for the middle schoolers.

When all the healthy toppings have been added, participants will watch their pizzas cook in the wood-fired oven and enjoy the tasty results.

Bearl hopes the students will be so excited about making their own food they won’t care that the pizza crust is whole-wheat or that they are eating vegetables. “I want them to like fresh, minimally processed food, and to go home and have their parents make it,” he said.

And if those parents take their children grocery shopping, they might start to hear, “Hey Mom, I want some kohlrabi!”’ Bearl said.

In addition to teaching kids about nutrition and where their food comes from, Martin sees the cooking demonstration as chance to show youth career opportunities in the culinary arts.

This event will further strengthen the partnership between UF/IFAS and Bok Tower Gardens, and help serve the mission of both institutions to encourage healthy living and appreciation of natural resources, Martin said.

The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden “represents the goals of the partnership to provide experiential education that’s going to enrich people’s lives,” Martin said.

“Bok Tower is a teaching institution,” said Bearl, “and these kinds of partnerships only help spread the word about UF/IFAS.”

Bearl trains program assistants in the UF/IFAS Family Nutrition Program and is the UF/IFAS Farm to School chef. He is certified by the American Culinary Federation.

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Sources: David Bearl, 904-669-1340,

Tricia Martin, 863-332-0742,

Chickens outdoors

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has become the go-to educational resource for Duval County residents who want to raise chickens in their own backyards.

When Jacksonville passed an ordinance in 2015 allowing hens on residential properties, city officials wanted to make sure that people understood the basics of backyard poultry before they were issued a permit, said UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Andy Toelle.

The city approached UF/IFAS Extension Duval County to create an educational program that would prepare prospective chicken owners. Residents must take the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County Backyard Poultry Seminar to get the certificate needed for the permit.

Toelle, UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Terra Freeman and UF/IFAS Extension Baker County director and poultry expert Mike Davis lead the seminar. They take pride in being the principal source of poultry education in the area. “We get calls every day about this program,” Freeman said.

The city allotted 300 permits for the pilot program, and these quickly ran out, Toelle said. Now in its second year, the seminar continues to be in high demand. Freeman estimated that more than 1,000 people have attended the seminar and that the city has issued more than 400 permits.

Toelle and Davis cover embryology (raising chickens from eggs) and small-scale poultry production, respectively. Freeman focuses on how chickens can be used for pest control and how their manure can be turned into fertilizer.

In general, people want to raise chickens because they “are interested in where their food comes from and having a connection with it,” Toelle said. Davis noted that this connection drives the seminar’s popularity.

“I don’t come from an agricultural background, but I love plants and animals, and keeping chickens seemed like a natural fit,” said Genora Crain-Orth, a Duval County resident who attended the pilot program.

Crain-Orth helped get the Jacksonville backyard poultry ordinance passed, and she currently runs River City Chicks, a non-profit that educates people in the Jacksonville area about backyard chickens.

She advocated for an educational component to the city ordinance and believes that the Extension seminar “is a really great way to mitigate concerns that people will get into chicken-keeping without knowing what they are doing.”

She noted that when she started keeping chickens, her son became more aware of what goes into producing food. “Once we got the chickens and they started laying eggs, there were a lot of dots connected for him. He is eager to show them off and tell people what their names and breeds are.”

In addition to helping people get in touch with their agricultural side, the seminar has a broad economic reach.

Permit fees go to the city, and the local feed stores that sell the chickens and supplies now have more customers. Families who keep hens save money because they no longer have to buy eggs at the supermarket. According to Toelle and Freeman, all this amounts to a $200,000 positive impact on the local economy.

UF/IFAS Photo by Thomas Wright

Sources: Michael Davis, (904) 259-3520,

Terra Freeman, (904) 255-7450,

Andy Toelle, (904) 255-7450,

Mycorrhizae under a microscope

Not all fungal infections are bad for plants—in fact, some of them are critical for plant survival, according University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

The UF/IFAS Applications and Analyses of Mycorrhizal Associations course teaches participants how to harness the power of these beneficial fungi. Andy Ogram, professor of soil and water sciences, and Abid Al Agely, senior biological scientist, co-founded the course.

Mycorrhizal fungi live in the soil and have a symbiotic relationship with plants. “The fungi actually function like part of the root systems,” and can be cooperative with 90 percent of plants, said Ogram. This mutually beneficial relationship is called a mycorrhizal association and is technically an infection, though a positive one.

According to Al Agely, mycorrhizal fungi add organic matter to the soil and help the plant better access and absorb nutrients and water. The fungi can also protect plants from disease because “they physically will not let pathogens infect the plant,” he said.

All these advantages are particularly useful for those who want to grow organic crops. Al Agely and Ogram created a course that would show organic farmers and others how to use mycorrhizal associations to their advantage.

The annual three-day course is now in its 11th year. The course is popular among UF/IFAS Extension agents, farmers, and those in the soil amendment industry. People have come from all over the world to take the course, the researchers said.

Al Agely and Ogram wanted participants to get practical, hands-on experience with recognizing, culturing and using mycorrhizal fungi. By the end of the course, “They will be able to isolate the spores of the fungi and use those as fertilizer,” said Ogram. “They will also be able to determine the efficiency at which those spores make associations—are they working or not?”

Completing the course gives attendees both knowledge and credibility. Businesses who grow mycorrhizal fungi often send their employees take the course and become certified. “There are many products that claim to promote plant growth, and we wanted to make sure that good science was behind these amendments,” said Ogram.

Cynthia Thomas, a University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences alumna, attended the course in 2015 and said she learned a lot.

Thomas took the course because she wanted to experiment with new farming practices and possibly create an organic division within her family’s farm, Thomas Produce, which is located in Boca Raton, Florida.

After completing the course, she tried growing tomato transplants in soil containing mycorrhizal fungi. “They were the most beautiful transplants I’ve ever grown,” she said. In the fall, she will experiment with more crops and see how they compare to plants grown without the fungi.

Sally Scalera, the urban horticulture agent and Master Gardener coordinator for UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County, also came away with new insights. When it comes to assisting homeowners or creating outreach programs, “I’m talking about soil now before anything else,” she said.

“Most interesting and useful was the fact that St. Augustine grass has mycorrhizae that work with it. I’m passing that on to homeowners,” she added.

While the course is very practical in nature, Al Agely also wants people to come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of how much plants depend on these fungi. Mycorrhizal associations have been going on for millions of years and are a key part of plant evolution, he said.

The course is set for July 11 to 13, and registration closes June 1. For more information, go to the course web page.

UF/IFAS Department of Soil and Water Sciences Photo by Abid Al Agely

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Abid Al Agely, 352-294-3144,

Andy Ogram, 352-294-3138,

Sally Scalera, 321-633-1702 ext. 222,

Cattle at NFREC, Marianna

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is showing small cow-calf producers how using the latest reproductive research leads to larger profits.

The UF/IFAS Florida Heifer Development Program was developed by Kalyn Waters, UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County director, and Cliff Lamb, professor of animal sciences and assistant director of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna.

Both Lamb and Waters saw a need for a program to help ranchers improve the productivity of their herds.

The success of any cow-calf operation depends on each cow producing one calf each year. When cows become unproductive due to age or other factors, they are replaced with heifers, female cattle who have not yet had their first calf, said Waters.

Waters explained that heifer development gets heifers ready to breed, and successful development depends on a heifer’s nutritional and reproductive management over her first two years of life.

Lamb’s team at NFREC has developed a system that makes heifer development more efficient. This system uses artificial insemination to impregnate heifers early in the breeding season, which allows them to have their calves earlier in the season.

All calves are sold on the same day of the year regardless of their birth date. When calves go to market, those born earlier in the calving season will weigh more than those born later, and since calves are sold by weight, earlier calves fetch a higher price, Waters noted.

According to Waters and Lamb, this increase in profitability is a strong incentive to use artificial insemination in cow-calf operations. There are long-term benefits as well. “When you develop your heifers properly, it really increases their longevity and productivity in the cowherd,” Waters said.

The UF/IFAS Florida Heifer Development Program lets smaller producers nominate their heifers for development at the NFREC. Smaller producers often do not have the resources and facilities to do effective heifer development, Waters said, so the program is meant to give producers more productive heifers and introduce producers to research-based development techniques.

The program will run between October 2016 and April 2017 and will include 100 heifers. According to Waters, current research predicts that 90 to 93 percent of the heifers will become pregnant.

Lamb hopes this program will allow producers to eventually adopt research-based development techniques. “The ultimate goal would be for folks to go, after a few years, ‘I think we can do this,’” he said.

This is only the first year of the program, and Waters and Lamb anticipate that it will grow and expand in years to come. “We are hoping that one day it will reach the level of the Florida Bull Test,” Waters said.

Please see the NFREC web site for more information and registration.

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Cliff Lamb, 850-526-1612,

Kalyn Waters, 850-547-1108,

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Fish underwater

Can you tell me how old a fish is just by looking at a slice of bone? That’s one question youth will learn how to answer in the Manatee Marine Explorers Day Camp created by two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agents.

“There is so much more to the ocean than what you can see on the surface,” says Angela Collins, UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agent in Manatee County and co-organizer of the camp.

She and fellow UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County agent Michelle Atkinson will introduce attendees to the diversity of marine life that may be less familiar than dolphins or sea turtles. During a fish dissection, Collins will show what makes fish unique—such as gills—and what makes them not so different from us. “We’ll show the kids where the heart is, the stomach, intestines—things they can relate to,” Collins said.

These young scientists will also discover the otolith, a tiny bone in the fish’s head that can tell a scientist how old the fish is—just as a tree gets more tree rings as it ages, the otolith likewise develops rings as a fish grows older. Attendees will practice looking at a thin slice of the otolith under a microscope to find out a fish’s age.

Environment stewardship is also high on the agenda. Atkinson’s Extension work often focuses on water quality, so she wants participants to understand that what goes into the ocean affects the animals that live there. For example, broken fishing lines that end up in the ocean can become an entanglement hazard for birds and other wildlife.

In response, participants are creating containers that local fishermen can use to collect broken lines and dispose of them properly when they return to shore. Stickers explaining how to use the container will add a creative touch.

Both Collins and Atkinson ultimately want to encourage curiosity and show how fun science can be. However, teaching environmental stewardship and appreciation also has a serious impact. “Tourism is the number one industry in the state of Florida,” Collins said, “and tourism is dependent on healthy marine ecosystems.”

Next year they hope to include more days of activities as well as a field trip.

Registration is capped at 50 participants and will close June 3. Activities will be held at the UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County office on June 10. The camp is free. For registration and more information, go to

UF/IFAS Featured Photo 

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Michelle Atkinson, (941) 722-4524,

Angela Collins, (941) 722-4524,


Who:    The University of Florida IFAS department of animal sciences will host the 65th Annual Florida Beef Cattle Short Course.

What:    Both small and large beef producers are invited to hear experts discuss hot topics and current research related to the beef industry. Presentations will include “Modern Ag in a Facebook Culture,” “Understanding the Use of GMOs in Agriculture” and “Beef Cattle Improvement in the Genomics Era.” Hands-on demonstrations will cover animal production, disease monitoring, and feed evaluation. Participants will have the opportunity to meet others in the industry during the trade show and catered dinner.

When:   1 p.m. to 5:45 p.m, Wednesday, May 4

8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday, May 5

8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Friday, May 6

Where:   Straughn IFAS Extension Professional Development Center

2142 Shealy Drive

Gainesville, FL 32611

For more information, visit

To register, go to


By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Source: Matthew Hersom, (352) 392-2390,

Preventing tree abuse through education


Have you ever had a tree trimmed back to bare bones because you thought you were getting your money’s worth? You may be guilty of tree abuse, says a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agent.

Continue Reading

Feeding Marine Fish Larvae with Airlifts

Melanurus wrasse fish larvae
Above: A Melanuras wrasse larvae fourteen days after hatching. UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Photo by Kevin Barden.

Marine fish are raised for the food, bait, and ornamental (aquarium fish) industries. Very young marine fish (larvae) have specific food needs, and meeting these needs is one of the challenges of producing quality fish in aquaculture.1 Airlifts can help producers cheaply and effectively capture the specific kinds of live food fish larva require.2

Eating on a Tiny Scale

Fish larva eat very small prey such as rotifers (a kind of small metazoan), brine shrimp, and copepods (a kind of crustacean). Most marine fish larva are attracted to the movements of these tiny organisms and will only eat live food. This food must have the appropriate nutrition, size, and behavior for the fish larva in question.1

An airlift in use

An airlift in use. UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Photo by Jason Broach

Capturing Prey with Airlifts

Research at UF/IFAS has shown that airlifts can be used to remove these tiny food organisms from the tanks where they are cultured. These food organisms can then be counted and feed to fish larva.

An airlift works by using air bubbles to force tank water through a pipe and into a container. This container is fitted with various screens that help filter out the food organisms in the water.

Organisms that are small enough to fit through the screen go into and stay in the container, while those that are too big stay in the tank. Using screens of different sizes allows producers to select only the kind and size of food that is appropriate for their fish larvae.2

  1. Cortney L. Ohs, Eric J. Cassiano, and Adelaide Rhodes, Choosing an Appropriate Live Feed for Larviculture of Marine Fish, FA167, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2016,
  2. Eric Cassiano, Matthew DiMaggio, Cortney Ohs, and John Marcellus, Using Airlifts to Collect and Concentrate Copepod Nauplii, FA188, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2015,

Florida’s Mangrove Forests

Mangrove tunnels at Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County, Florida

Mangroves are a kind of tree or shrub that typically grow on or near shorelines in tropical and subtropical climates such as Florida’s Gulf Coast. These plants are specially adapted to the wet, salty conditions where they grow.1 Mangrove forests play an important role in coastal ecosystems and also protect coastlines from erosion.1,2

Three species of mangroves are found in Florida:


Red Mangrove

  • Can reach between 20 and 40 feet tall
  • Yellow flowers
  • Large surface roots
  • Bark is brown3
  • Grow in standing water2

Black Mangrove

  • Can reach between 40 and 50 feet tall
  • White flowers
  • Roots put out branches that grow upward and help the plant “breath” during high tide
  • Bark is dark gray or brown, and leaves may appear white due to discharged salt
  • Grows between standing water and uplands2

White Mangrove

  • Can reach between 30 and 40 feet tall
  • White flowers
  • Large root system
  • Bark is light brown and may appear white due discharged salt
  • Grows in upland regions4


Mangrove forests provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered. These wildlife come to mangrove forests to find food and shelter, and to reproduce.1 Mangroves can also protect coastlines from erosion due to storms and tides.2

  1. Jorge R. Rey and C. Roxanne Connelly, Mangroves, ENY660, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2015,
  2. Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary M. Hudson, and Heather V. Quintana, Avicennia germinans, Black Mangrove, FOR259, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2013,
  3. Edward F. Gilman, Rhizophora mangle Red Mangrove, FPS502, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2014,
  4. Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary McKenzie, and Heather V. Quintana, Laguncularia racemosa, White Mangrove, FOR263, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2013,

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones