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State budget renews, eliminates vital UF/IFAS programs

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received good and bad news in the final budget passed by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

The state budget gives UF/IFAS funding for its ongoing operations and the resources to hire much needed faculty, some who were cut in previous budgets.  Funding was also appropriated for specific projects including $1 million for the beef teaching unit; $1 million for the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center; and $2 million for research on the deer population.

“We are grateful to the Legislature for providing IFAS with $5.5 million to restore about 40 science jobs cut during the recession, and $1 million to combat citrus greening,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources at UF/IFAS. “The legislature really acknowledged IFAS as the research arm of the $140 billion commercial agriculture industry.”

Meanwhile, cuts to the IFAS quarantine center at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce mean the program will likely end, Payne said. The legislature had approved an $180,000 increase—the first since 2004. But Scott cut all funding, $720,000, for the quarantine facility.

The potential loss of the Fort Pierce quarantine facility, the only invasive exotic quarantine facility in Florida, is heartbreaking, Payne said. Florida has the largest invasive infestations in the nation. Invasive species cost Florida approximately $100 million a year, he said.

The quarantine lab has played an important role in curbing invasive species in Florida. For example, researchers at the facility helped control the invasive weed, the tropical soda apple, through the release of 250,000 South American beetles. The move saved cattle ranchers about $5.75 million a year, Payne explained.

The center was poised to release the first biological control agent against the Brazilian peppertree, which is native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The tree has moved around the world as an ornamental plant, and in Florida, it has infested nearly 700,000 acres in the central and southern regions. It has been particularly abundant in the Everglades.

In general, the trees take over space where native plants should be. Animals such as white-tailed deer, the Florida panther and migratory birds that depend on native vegetation, such as mangrove, for food and shelter are deprived of that habitat.

According to Payne, the scientists at the quarantine facility also discovered potentially useful biological control agents of highly invasive cogon grass. Both the Brazilian peppertree and cogon grass are critical threats to Florida’s natural ecosystem.

In addition, UF/IFAS lost $300,000 that funds a Water Pollution Study, which looks at the impact of street sweepers on the pollution that runs into storm drains. And, the institute lost $2.5 million that would have slated for a state of the art honeybee research center.

“We will continue to do great work at UF/IFAS, and look forward to working with the governor during the next session to pursue funding for those programs that were not approved,” Payne said.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

 

Source: Jack Payne, 352-392-1971, jackpayne@ufl.edu