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Private Support Boosts Belle Glade REC

Debra Amirin

Melda Bassett, Assistant VP fo (352) 392-1975

GAINESVILLE – Nearly $4 million in gifts and state matches through the SHARE program has helped the Everglades Research and Education Center reach the forefront of academic and research excellence and become one of the top REC’s in Florida in the acquisition of grants. Success breeds success, and Director of the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center Van Waddill knows that better than anyone. Nearly $4 million in gifts, pledges and state matches through SHARE in the past ten years from a grateful Belle Glade agricultural community have helped the Center to achieve the academic and research excellence vital to the acquisition of grant funding and made the EREC the number one research and education center in Florida in the acquisition of such support.

“Gifts from the mid and early 90’s from Wedgworth Farms, Inc. and others allowed us to build a student dormitory, buy equipment for the new laboratory building we moved into in ’92, provide for graduate student assistants and create an endowment for a visiting professor,” said Waddill.

“These gifts strengthen the program a great deal. Now, because we have the equipment, students and a visiting professor, our scientists are in a much stronger position when they pursue grant funding. Success breeds success, and the fact that we’re doing well in SHARE is helping us in other aspects as well.”

Wedgworth Farms, Inc. is owned by the children of Everglades area farming pioneers Ruth and Herman Wedgworth: George H. Wedgworth, Helen Jean Boynton, and Barbara Oetzman. George is president of both Wedgworth Farms, Inc. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and chair of the UF/IFAS Campaign Committee.

Wedgworth Farms, Inc. made a leadership-level $1 million gift to the EREC in 1990 for a dormitory, scientific equipment, and professorship and graduate fellowship endowments. The gift was matched with $450,000 by the state. The company recently donated an additional $150,000, to be matched with $150,000 from the state, to renovate an auditorium at the EREC into a greatly needed soils laboratory.

“The proposed new soils laboratory at the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center will provide a much-needed facility for improved research to determine proper plant nutrition for maximum production without causing excessive nutrient runoff that could cause harm to the ecosystem,” said Wedgworth. “The newly developed advanced farming Best Mana-gement Practices require farmers to more accurately calibrate their usage of plant nutrients to maximize economical and environmental benefits. We at Wedgworth Farms, Inc. are pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this new laboratory facility.”

Waddill said, “Growers are relying more and more on our soils lab to help them make decisions on fertilizer use. It is important for them to control the amount of phosphorus in the runoff water leaving the farm, and they want to use fertilizer as economically as possible.”

A gift from the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, which came in at the same time as the Wedgworth gift, will be used to build a new, state-of-the-art 300-seat auditorium that will double the old facility’s seating capacity and enable the EREC to offer first-class presentations, host grower meetings, conferences and symposia, and disseminate the latest in research information and techniques to the public. It will also be available to Belle Glade citizens, filling a critical need for meeting space in the community.

According to Wedgworth, “The board of directors of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, acting on behalf of its 56 member-growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, is pleased to be able to help bring the new conference center/auditorium to the EREC. We believe that research has been the underlying foundation to the success of the sugar-producing region and specifically to the Cooperative. More importantly, we believe that research will be the key to our sustainability in the future. We are pleased to be able to support the Everglades REC.”

Other recent gifts through UF’s “It’s Performance That Counts” Capital Campaign include a $500,000 anonymous gift for general support of the Center that is expected to receive a 50 percent match from the state and a $100,000 gift from the Florida Rice Council to support rice research and extension programs.

“Rice is a relatively new crop in this area and a perfect example of how farmers are finding more and more innovative ways to maximize production on their land while being good environmental stewards,” said Florida Rice Council, Inc. President Rick Roth. “Flooding the land in the summertime to grow rice fits in perfectly with growing crops like vegetables and sugar cane the rest of the year, and is an excellence way to reduce soil subsidence. The growers who make up the Florida Rice Council hope their support of UF/IFAS will help to make it as profitable as it is environmentally sound.”

Regular EREC supporters include Agrevo USA Company, American Cyanamid, Bayer, Calcium Silicate, Elf Atochem North America, Inc., Gustafson, Knight Management, George W. Maker, Monsanto, Henry Y. Ozaki, Ricetec, Rohm and Haas, Terra International, Inc., Thermo Trilogy, Valent USA Corporation, West Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Woodard & Curran and Zeneca, Inc.

The mission of the EREC is to conduct research and educational programs to improve agricultural practices, conserve and protect soil and water resources, and develop cost effective and energy efficient systems to permit the continued existence of agriculture in southern Florida. Its 15 scientists participate in interdisciplinary team approaches in program areas such as: organic and mineral soils, emphasizing principles and practices to reduce fertilizer use and minimize environmental degradation; irrigation, drainage, agricultural water quality and on-farm water management; genetics, plant breeding, and variety development of celery, lettuce, rice, sugarcane, turfgrasses and sweet corn; Integrated Pest Management; information, analysis, and decision aids through teaching economic and management principles; agronomic wildlife aspects of rice production in the Everglades Agricultural Area; and graduate student training.

EREC successes include: results that indicate N, P, and K fertilizer rates used in sod production can be reduced substantially from previous recommendations; publication of a Best Management Practice guidebook for P loading reduction in drainage water; new varieties of celery, lettuce, rice, sugarcane and sweet corn; refinement of IPM strategies for celery, peppers, rice, sweet corn, and sugarcane; information regarding challenges and opportunities for Florida agriculture from future trade with Cuba; and identification of soils needing silicon fertilization to maximize rice yields.

If you are interested in supporting the EREC, contact Melda H. Bassett in the SHARE Office at (352) 392-1975.