One of the blessings of the holiday season is that it gives us time to pause and reflect on the events of the year and anticipate the year ahead. When I reflect upon 2018, I think about the challenges we faced here in Florida, how UF/IFAS Extension responded and how we continue to grow as an organization as a result.
Hurricane Michael was one of the events that defined 2018. It was the biggest storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle and caused significant damage to property, agriculture and facilities. However, UF/IFAS Extension was probably better prepared for a major storm than it had ever been before. Taking lessons from Hurricane Irma in 2016, we reinforced procedures to continue operations after catastrophic events, developed tools to help growers and communities more accurately assess damage, and established a one-stop website where people could get useful information on disaster preparation and up-to-the-minute updates on recovery efforts. As a result, Extension was able to respond immediately, working with state and federal agencies out of our county offices to distribute needed supplies, assess damage to property and crops, and round up livestock displaced by the storm. Extension faculty and staff throughout the state pitched in to help and I’m extremely proud of our professionalism and compassion.
2018 was also a year when red tide and algal blooms clogged our shores, killed wildlife and drove thousands of visitors away from our beaches and lakes. These unsightly and often tragic events are complex phenomena caused by both human and natural factors, and UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant and natural resources agents responded in the news media, in social media and at public meetings with up-to-date, science-based answers to questions about red tide, harmful algal blooms and the steps we can take to lessen their impacts in the future.
Florida’s citrus industry continued to struggle in 2018, buffeted by citrus greening and other challenges from disease, climate change and encroaching development. UF/IFAS has been working tirelessly to find solutions to these problems, and this year Extension further strengthened its commitment to our citrus growers. Citrus agents are sharing the latest research discoveries and connecting with the industry through the traditional means of field days and on-site consultations, and are also using social media, a new website (citrusresearch.ifas.ufl.edu), monthly e-newsletters and, in partnership with Southeast AgNet, a new podcast called “All In for Citrus” to create a forum where growers and researchers can exchange information and develop new strategies to rebuild Florida’s most iconic industry.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida. MREC, as it’s called, is one of 12 UF/IFAS research and education centers strategically located around the state. Research and Extension work at MREC has been especially beneficial to the environmental horticulture industry, which contributes $22 billion to our state’s economy. And in 2018 MREC has increased its focus on expanding urban food systems in central Florida. It’s another example of how UF/IFAS Extension stays close to traditional agriculture while getting in front of new trends.
Looking ahead to 2019, we will be working with a new governor, a new commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and new legislators in state and county governments. We’ll be working hard in Tallahassee and throughout the state to build advocates for Extension, educating stakeholders about the impacts our programs and partnerships have on agriculture, tourism, natural resources, healthy nutrition, youth development and the overall quality of life in our state.
The U.S. Farm Bill, which passed through Congress just last week, will keep in place successful Extension programs like the Family Nutrition Program, which provides nutrition information for families receiving assistance. At the same time, it promises to open new opportunities for Florida’s specialty crop growers. UF/IFAS has been at the forefront of research and Extension work on growing alternative crops, including hops, vanilla bean, and pomegranates, to which we can now add industrial hemp to the options for farmers seeking new enterprises.
From sharing discoveries about precision agriculture and improved irrigation, to showing families how they can cook healthy meals with fresh local produce, UF/IFAS Extension will continue in 2019 to do what it has done best since 1914: Learn from the present, anticipate the future, and provide the people of Florida with the information they need to grow our economy, strengthen our communities, protect our natural resources and improve our health and happiness.
I look forward to finding new ways for UF/IFAS Extension to serve you in 2019, and I wish you happy holidays and the best fortunes for the new year!
To learn more about UF/IFAS Extension’s plans and initiatives for 2019, view our stakeholder webinar at: http://bit.ly/2C8sfHi