The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Hastings Agricultural Extension Center (HAEC) is a valuable gem located in the heart of the Tri-County Agriculture Area (TCAA which includes Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns Counties). The facility began as the Potato Investigations Laboratory in 1923. During its long history serving the agricultural interests in the TCAA, researchers conducted disease management, soil fertility and improved horticultural practices for the two main crops, namely potatoes and cabbage.
In 1937, the Hastings Potato Growers Association donated a portion of what is referred to as the HAEC downtown location for laboratories and research plots. In 1959, 50 acres of land were obtained on Cowpen Branch Road to meet the need of increased research efforts of scientists working at the center. Today, the downtown location is up for sale and the plan is to use the resources to build up the research farm and potentially expand the current acreage. The research farm plays a key role as a valuable site for research and Extension demonstrations for local producers of traditional and alternative crops within the region and beyond. The Center hosts two field days a year for adults (Potato Field Day in April and Cole Crop Field Day in December) and two field days a year for 4-H youth (Potato Planting Day on MLK in January and Potato Harvesting in April).
Cole Crop Field Day
Most recently, the annual Cole Crop Field Day was hosted by the UF/IFAS research farm for local growers and anyone else interested in the current crops and trials ongoing at the center. Several producers and regulators came to learn and have interactive discussions on alternative crops and cabbage trials focused on more efficient production methods. Dr. Lincoln Zotarelli dug up a cross-section of cabbage plants to show the shallow root zone and discussed the importance of phosphorus application rates and timing. Scott Chambers taught brussels sprouts 101 and discussed the market potential in Hastings (compared to California), crop production methodologies for Hastings soils, harvest yields and maturity ages for four different varieties trialed at the farm – namely Divino, Dagan, Marte and Speedia. Prissy Fletcher informed the group about artichokes and revealed that timely gibberellic acid applications are the key to induce fruit production in mild Florida temperatures. Kris Beckham discussed characteristics and showed multiple examples of black rot disease manifestation in cabbage. Dr. Wendy Mussoline explained the benefits of growing cabbage on plastic using drip fertigation with high-density plant spacing and showed the trial plots compared with conventional planting. The culmination was a delicious farm-to-table luncheon sponsored by UPL Technical Sales and prepared by Patty Greene using vegetables grown at the farm.
4-H Potato Field Day
The next event that is open to the public is the annual 4-H potato field day on Monday, January 20, 2020 from 9AM until noon for youth. Kids will learn about a variety of topics and get to harvest brussels sprouts and plant potatoes as part of the field day. In order to participate, children (ages 5 to 18) must be registered on 4-H online (http://florida4h.org/4-h-online/) and the deadline to register for the field day is January 6, 2020. Please contact the Flagler County 4-H agent (Alisha) at email@example.com for further instructions.
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension – An Equal Opportunity Institution.