Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277
P.K. Nair email@example.com, (352) 846-0880
Michael Bannister firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 846-0146
Rob Kalmbacher email@example.com, (863) 735-1314, ext. 203
Shibu Jose firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 983-2632
GAINESVILLE, Fla.—To promote environmentally friendly farming practices in the U.S. Southeast, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will establish a new Center for Subtropical Agroforestry with the aid of a $3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In announcing the grant today (5/24), P.K. Nair, distinguished professor in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said the center will provide teaching, research and extension in agroforestry, a new farming practice that grows crops and animals alongside of trees or shrubs.
“We’ve waited years for this,” said Nair, who will serve as the center’s director. “It’s the first time a government agency has provided substantial funding for agroforestry in the southeastern U.S.”
He said scientific agroforestry practices are relatively unknown to industrialized nations, but are common in tropical regions, where limited-resource farmers grow trees in crop fields to produce firewood and other products.
“In the United States, agroforestry could bridge the gap between commercial agriculture and traditional farming,” Nair said. “It could help smaller farms diversify, enhance revenues and become more sustainable. It also promotes conservation of land and wildlife habitat.”
To give the center a regional perspective, UF experts will collaborate with representatives of Florida A & M University, Auburn University, University of Georgia and the University of the Virgin Islands, said Michael Bannister, who will serve as the center’s assistant director.
“Our goal is to develop agroforestry products for the entire Southeast and help extension agents bring that knowledge to landowners,” said Bannister, a research assistant professor with the UF school. “Because agroforestry combines several scientific disciplines, it can be challenging.”
The center will pursue eight research projects and four extension projects outlined in the grant proposal, he said.
One research project involves farming pine trees on cattle pastureland, said Rob Kalmbacher, an UF agronomy professor at UF’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona.
“Florida cattlemen could earn additional revenue selling pulpwood and saw timber,” he said. “They could also sell hunting leases, because pine stands provide wildlife habitat.”
Another research project will focus on interaction between trees and crops, said Shibu Jose, a UF forestry assistant professor at UF’s West Florida Research and Education Center in Milton. Jose said trees and crops often compete for resources, which can be a problem — or a benefit.
“In most cases we want to minimize competition,” he said. “One promising environmental strategy uses deep-rooted trees to capture excess crop fertilizer and prevent it from leaching into groundwater.”
Benefits such as environmental protection can’t be sold on the open market, but they have value, said Janaki Alavalapati, UF natural resources assistant professor in Gainesville. Alavalapati will measure agroforestry’s “non-market benefits” in tangible terms.
“We need to give landowners and policy makers a complete picture of agroforestry’s importance,” he said. “In some cases the non-market benefits may convince people to support agroforestry.”
Before the public supports agroforestry, they must become aware of it, said Alan Long, a UF associate professor of forest operations. Long and UF natural resources assistant professor Martha Monroe are coordinating the center’s four extension projects, with the help of Sarah Workman, a newly recruited research assistant professor with the agroforestry center.
After surveying landowners and extension agents to assess their educational needs, Long, Monroe and Workman will develop agroforestry publications and training programs to meet those needs, he said.
“Extension provides two great benefits to agroforestry,” Monroe said. “It helps researchers focus their efforts on landowners’ needs, and it allows research results to be communicated back to landowners so they can improve their practices both environmentally and economically.”
One extension project will establish demonstration areas on farms where landowners can view agroforestry cultivation, Workman said.
“We believe more people will get involved with agroforestry if they see their neighbors practicing it,” she said. “We hope to reach many landowners and help them be better stewards of the land.”
Scientific agroforestry has been practiced in the United States for about 15 years, she said. Other major agroforestry research facilities in the United States are located in Missouri and Nebraska.