Sugarcane expert Rob Gilbert named director of UF Everglades research center
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Sugarcane expert Rob Gilbert has been appointed director of the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. The appointment is effective March 16.
Gilbert, an agronomy professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has been interim director of the Belle Glade center since October 2010.
“Rob is a prolific researcher and a longtime member of the EREC faculty,” Payne said. “He’s earned the confidence of his colleagues as well as the producers and local residents we serve. I’m certain he’ll take the center to new levels of achievement.”
Established in 1921, the Belle Glade center is one of UF’s oldest research and education centers. It was founded to assist farmers in southeast Florida, who grew sugarcane and vegetables in the area’s nutrient-rich muck soil. Currently, the center has 11 faculty and about 50 staff members.
“At a research and education center, your program centers around your faculty members, they drive the program,” Gilbert said. “What I can do as director is ensure that our program is balanced. We should be doing cutting-edge research and getting it published, and focusing on ways to keep agricultural production here profitable and sustainable.”
At EREC, Gilbert has been involved in breeding sugarcane varieties suitable for production on muck soil, working with colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service facility in Canal Point and the Florida Sugar Cane League in Clewiston. He is also evaluating methods for harvesting mature sugarcane without first burning the fields to remove dead leaves.
Recently, Gilbert has been involved in a project evaluating energycane for use in cellulosic ethanol production, and comparing energycane to other potential bioenergy crops.
Gilbert has been with the center since June 2000, when he was hired by UF as an agronomy assistant professor. He arrived at UF after a stint as a research fellow in Malawi, a southeast African country, where he researched cropping methods to improve soil fertility for corn production.
Gilbert received a doctorate in soil science from Texas A&M University in 1996, a master of science degree in agronomy from UF in 1992 and a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College in 1985. He also spent two years in the Peace Corps after earning his bachelor’s degree, working in Sierra Leone, a country in western Africa.
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