$20 million federal grant has hidden benefit for UF-led pine group, two other funded projects

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida formally accepted a $20 million federal grant last week on behalf of a consortium working to improve southern pine management; now it seems there’s a hidden benefit to the grant—the UF-led team can save money and boost the project’s usefulness by collaborating with groups funded to work on corn and wheat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced all three five-year, $20 million grants, known as Coordinated Agriculture Projects, Friday at a press conference in Washington, D.C. The projects will help major crops adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.

At the event, UF representatives met with leaders of the Iowa State University-based corn project and University of Idaho-based wheat project. They agreed to coordinate on matters such as measurement standards, data management protocols and computer software.

By doing this, all three projects can reduce expenses and make it easier for scientists to compare and combine data, said Tim Martin, a professor with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation and principal investigator for the project. Martin accepted the grant and took part in meetings to discuss planted pine, one of the most economically and environmentally important crops in the Southeast.

“I think there will be a great deal of synergy between these projects,” Martin said. “The scientists can work together, for example, by agreeing on the protocols for making standardized measurements, taking soil samples, taking atmospheric samples. When you can coordinate fundamental procedures that way, it’s an enormous scientific opportunity.”

One of the first tasks is to form a data management working group to develop methods that all three projects will use to record and organize their findings.

“Having coordinated data management will make all these projects much more efficient,” he said. “That was a real plus, it’s helpful to us and makes better use of the money the public has spent to support these projects.”

Funded work on the pine project is expected to begin in March, he said.

Besides UF, the consortium includes 10 southeastern land-grant universities, eight forestry research cooperatives, the U.S. Forest Service, state climate offices and the multistate Southeast Climate Consortium.

The grant is the largest ever associated with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said Director Tim White. The school is part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“One thing I’m very impressed with is the spirit of collaboration in the many universities and agencies involved in the pine C.A.P. grant,” White said. “You can imagine how universities may compete with each other for the large grants, but these scientists have been collaborating for about 15 years. When the request for proposals came out it was clear to all of the scientists that this was a golden opportunity. The fact that they secured the grant is a testimonial to the hard work of all 50 scientists involved.”

The funding will support research, education and outreach efforts to develop and transfer better management practices for southern pine, particularly loblolly pine, which accounts for 80 percent of planted forest in the Southeast.

Loblolly pine occurs naturally from Maryland to Texas, giving it great potential for carbon sequestration, Martin said. Carbon sequestration is the practice of producing and storing durable materials that contain carbon, to slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus mitigate climate change.

“There hasn’t been much focus on climate change by forest managers and landowners, partly because little information is available,” Martin said. “This project provides an unprecedented opportunity to integrate forestry research, outreach and education in the region to address this important societal challenge.”

Changes brought about by climate change could include reduced summer rainfall, higher temperatures and increased pest and disease pressures, he said. Much of the work funded by the grant will focus on development of improved trees and management strategies.

The grant will also support extensive measurements on field experiments already under way across the region, to determine how soils, climate and management influence the loblolly’s carbon-sequestration potential.

Researchers will try to make trees grow faster and larger, he said. They’ll also investigate ways to keep trees healthy and use fertilizer more efficiently.

The project will create an undergraduate intern program and provide for the education of 29 graduate students and seven postdoctoral associates, said Martha Monroe, a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation who will integrate education and outreach into the team’s overall mission.

“These undergraduate, graduate and postdoc opportunities are essential to the success of the project, but also help change the future,” she said. “Our students will become the next generation of scientists and educators.”

The UF-led consortium was able to obtain the grant partly because the university has a history of supporting climate change projects such as the Florida Climate Institute and the Carbon Resources Science Center, said Gary Peter, an associate professor with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation. He’ll integrate efforts to help the industry and small landowners adapt to changing climate conditions and improve the resiliency of southern forests.

Peter added that the USDA was impressed by the vast body of data that’s been accumulated by regional forest research cooperatives over several decades. The cooperatives include university, state and industry experts “who will help guide the research and implement changes in planted pine forest management,” he said.

All $60 million in grant funding was provided by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program. NIFA Director Roger Beachey made the official grant awards.

UF will receive about $7.3 million directly; the remaining $12.7 million will fund work by collaborators.

Contacts

Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Sources: Tim Martin, 352-846-0866, tamartin@ufl.edu

Tim White, 352-846-0850, tlmartin@ufl.edu