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17th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum Draws 175 Attendees

By Jessica Pardo, Communications Specialist, SWSD

The 17th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum was held on Thursday, September 15th, 2016 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union at the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL).

Jay Capasso presenting his poster

SWSD student Jay Capasso presenting his research poster. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

The annual forum allows an opportunity for students and faculty to present and discuss their research with others within the Soil and Water Sciences Department (SWSD), along with administrators, and guests from various organizations and universities. Students can gain experience participating in a poster presentation and an oral presentation competition.

The significance of this year’s forum was emphasized by the Department Chair, Dr. K. Ramesh Reddy, as he highlighted the department’s new faculty and recent name change to better reflect the full scope of what the SWSD does. What was once referred to as the Soil and Water Science Department, is now the Soil and Water Sciences Department, emphasizing that multiple facets of science are represented within SWSD.

Dr. Jack Payne, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources at UF/IFAS, was in attendance and spoke at the forum. Payne emphasized the importance of the research in SWSD, noting that the work of soil and water scientists is at the core of all agriculture and environmental sciences.

“The knowledge you generate will help clean up the Everglades, help put Florida OJ on tables, and will even impact climate change,” Payne said.

Although the impact of soil and water sciences research is immeasurable, it is rarely discussed outside of the discipline, according to Payne.

Payne explained how various commodity groups across the state help advocate on behalf of different departments, “There is no commodity group for soil and water sciences but it is the heart and soul of agriculture,” Payne said, as he noted his support for the discipline. “Thank you and please keep up your great work.”

Many of the research leaders in this vital industry at the heart of agriculture are right here at UF/IFAS.

Dr. James Anderson

Dr. James Anderson speaks with forum participant. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.

“Food is the indispensable cornerstone of human well-being which sustains life, promotes health, and builds functional societies,” said Dr. James L. Anderson, Professor and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS), UF/IFAS, who also attended the forum.

Anderson addressed the concern of the projected world population increase to 9 billion by 2050 and the task of producing enough food for the world. “But is it really an issue of producing more food?” Anderson asked. According to Anderson, the issue of world hunger is a distribution problem – not how much is food is produced, but the obese vs. the underfed. “Solving food problems of efficient distribution solves many other problems,” Anderson said.

The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems was created to tackle the problems that Dr. Anderson spoke of (food production, technology, trade and distribution) on a global scale.

One of Anderson’s fellow faculty members in ISFS is also a new research professor here in SWSD.

Dr. Pedro A. Sanchez, Research Professor new to SWSD (UF/IFAS), gave the keynote talk at the forum entitled Africa’s Progress on Fighting Hunger: Science and Policy. Sanchez gave attendees an inside look at how scientists can influence policy and impact world hunger. He painted a picture of the dire situation that Africa was facing in 2002, where 221 million people were underweight and farmers struggled to produce adequate yields and distribute those yields properly.

Dr. Pedro Sanchez

Research Forum attendees talk with Dr. Pedro Sanchez. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.

Sanchez shared the components of producing change, his strategy as a joint effort with a team of leaders around the world, and the massive impact that they have had on Africa’s soil fertility, agricultural yields, economy, and hunger.

Sanchez proposed that UF’s contribution to the Green Revolution in Africa should be to add to the environmental dimension as a component of producing change. Specifically, Sanchez suggested focusing on an increase in production yields, an increase in livestock and fisheries, tradeoffs and synergies between rapidly increasing agricultural production and the environment, obtaining more data on climate change, and determining the effect of agricultural production on biodiversity.

Click here to view the video recording from the research forum if you would like to hear Dr. Sanchez’s keynote speech and plan as a new faculty member in SWSD.

An impact on global hunger and the Green Revolution in Africa can start right here at UF, according to Sanchez. Solutions to these problems potentially lie in the upcoming soil and water scientists who are being cultivated in this department.

Three of the department’s new faculty, Dr. Allan Bacon (Assistant Professor, Environmental Pedology), Dr. Matthew Deitch (Assistant Professor, Watershed Management) and Dr. Sarah Strauss (Assistant Professor, Soil Microbiology) gave presentations on their research programs and goals for the future.

Student poster presentations

Students present their research during the poster session. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Fifty-seven graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral researchers and visiting scholars presented research projects at the forum which highlighted various aspects of the discipline and their respective specializations. The subjects ranged from topics of food security and bioenergy production to soil carbon composition and water runoff effects from farmland.

The Best Oral Presentation Award was presented to SWSD graduate student Anne Sexton for her research project entitled Impact of Floating Aquatic Vegetation Suppression on Canal Sediment Properties in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

SWSD graduate students Evandro B. da Silva, Peng Gao, Katie McCurley, and Katsutoshi Mizuta each received an award for their individual poster presentations. The Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation was presented to Chelsea Hazlett.

The 17th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum was sponsored by the Soil and Water Sciences Department (SWSD), the University of Florida (UF), and the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). SWSD would like to thank the Environmental Hydrology Laboratory, the Wetland Biogeochemistry Laboratory, and the UF Water Institute for co-sponsoring the event.

Plan to attend the 18th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum, which will be held Thursday, September 14, 2017 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union at the University of Florida.