MREC Updates: Letter from the Center Director
Brave New Viral World
Welcome to MREC in our upside-down world of COVID-19. Adjusting has been challenging for the University of Florida and IFAS, but especially for our client industries. MREC’s industry portfolio is largely based on the green industry, foliage production and nursery/landscaping, as well as the emerging industries of medicinal plants and local food systems. The economic impact on these industries has varied with national versus local markets and how much people value plants. The foliage industry has seemingly been hit the hardest but as states re-open their sales are improving, especially given the value foliage plants bring to those who have been staying at home. The landscape industry has stayed open as an essential business because beautiful landscapes valuable element of society. The nurseries in Florida are in-between: lost sales because buying season has been curtailed nationally, but they continue to supply landscapers and meet a changing consumer base with direct-to-consumer sales. Once normal commerce can ramp up, pent up demand should help both industries, and MREC will be there to study consumer demand and efficient production practices.
MREC’s mission portfolio also includes participation in the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project plants. While still rapidly taking shape, the state’s new flagship plant – high cannabinoid industrial hemp – continues to beckon as a profitable crop to many prospective Florida growers. FDACS has issued cultivation permits this spring, and MREC will continue to support the emergent industrial hemp industry with research into production cycles, fertilizer demand, water demand and pest control.
The pandemic shutdown has brought one aspect of MREC’s portfolio out of the shadows onto center stage: local food systems. With grocery store supply chains being stretched and thinned, large scale production has lost its nationwide markets, resulting in Florida growers having to plow under crops like tomatoes. Tragically, this is happening while the unemployed line up outside food banks for assistance.
The pandemic ignited interest not only in locally produced food, but especially growing your own. In times of crises, people turn to backyard gardening as a source of emotional security as well as food security. Extension offices, such as the one in Columbia County, have started Victory2020 Gardening Programs. The COVID-19 virus has turned our world upside-down, however, out of the disruption emerges new opportunities. MREC will do its best to help build a resilient local food system in central Florida.