March 21st is National Agriculture Day, a time to recognize and celebrate the men and women who produce our food, fuel and fiber. Now celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the theme for this year’s Ag Day is “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow”. (https://agday.org)
You don’t need to tell farmers to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow is what keeps them up at night. What will the market be like tomorrow? Will it rain tomorrow? How will I pay my bills tomorrow?
To work in agriculture is to live in a constant state of hope and concern about the future, whether it’s a day, a month or decades from now.
Agriculture has changed a lot over the past 50 years, especially here in Florida. The state’s population has grown from just under 8 million people in 1973 to more than 22 million today. And as our population expands, the land once used for agriculture has yielded to urban sprawl—some 5 million acres of agricultural land have been lost over 50 years. Florida’s farmers and ranchers have to feed more people on less land.
They also have to navigate the fine line between production and sustainability. In Florida, competition for natural resources is increasingly intense. Water and plant nutrients, necessary for ag production, have to be carefully applied to prevent negative impacts on the environment.
Climate change is already having a huge impact on Florida’s agriculture. Heat stress can cause reduced crop yields and livestock production. Hurricanes are causing billions of dollars in losses to citrus groves, nurseries and field crops. Changes in seasonal temperatures are creating opportunities for growers in some parts of the state, while putting others out of business.
To stay competitive, most Florida farmers have to diversify their operations, investing in new technology and advanced practices, growing new varieties and alternative crops, seeking out novel markets for their products, and branching out into agritourism and other enterprises.
It all adds up to a lot of sleepless nights thinking about tomorrow.
The goal of UF/IFAS Extension has always been to get ahead of tomorrow. We take visionary research from the University of Florida and other top-tier institutions and find innovative ways to adapt that knowledge into tools that ag producers need to stay in the game.
Extension agriculture agents work closely with both researchers and industry to develop new crop varieties and livestock breeds that are adapted to our changing climate. We also explore production practices and markets for alternative crops. Artichoke, vanilla, dragon fruit, finger lime, hemp, hops, and carinata are just a few that have potential to become the state’s next signature crop.
UF/IFAS is committed to advancing agricultural technology into the 21st Century. A new 19,000-square-foot artificial intelligence hub is being built at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm. We’re hiring faculty that specialize in AI and robotics as part of our initiative to study and conduct outreach on technology that can help producers grow more efficiently and sustainably.
UF/IFAS Extension is also committed to fostering the next generation of agriculturists, through 4-H Youth Development and workplace training programs that will prepare youth for new careers in agriculture and food science.
On this National Ag Day, we express our gratitude to the people who provide us with the food we eat and the clothes on our backs. At UF/IFAS Extension, we recognize the challenges that keep you up at night, and we are working beside you to create a climate for a productive and sustainable future for America’s agriculture.
National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), a nonprofit organization composed of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community, dedicating its efforts to increasing the public’s awareness of agriculture’s role in modern society.