Over the past two weeks I have visited a few of our IFAS Research and Education Centers and also I met with all the directors of REC’s at their retreat in Fort Pierce. These are the Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations around the state. See here for a list and maps!
First of all, IFAS has an incredible team of leaders who run these programs and facilities–they never fail to impress me. They seek common things: resources to support their faculty in research, whether it is lab improvements, or funds to pay for pruning trees, or to build a gravel road; to work with their stakeholders on local issues of need in agricultural and natural resources; and to continue a record of excellence in research, teaching, and extension.
Each REC has its own culture, facility issues, and challenges. I have visited all of them at least once so far (and have been to Immokalee, Homestead, Jay, Fort Pierce, Citra, and Balm in the past month–WOW), and always like to know what is on the mind of the director. Sometimes it is simple–some funds to put gravel on the main road so it doesn’t wash out and make it impassable to go to the farm fields; sometimes it is complex–how are we going to hire new faculty who need research labs and we have just a pole barn right now; and sometimes it is something that is THE problem with no solution–what will happen when all the muck soil that grows sugar cane oxidizes away.
My job in Operations is to listen and to talk with my staff about ways to help. Our Facilities staff solves problems with creative ways that astound me daily. Our Budget staff find the right kind of dollars we need at the right time. Our Shared Services and other business managers help pay the bills and navigate purchasing, travel, and all the appropriate regulations.
One of my goals for 2016 is to try to isolate some more operational dollars to support the REC’s. I am not sure how yet, but REC’s are important and are the face of UF/IFAS for many around the state.