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UF CALS student named as prestigious ‘Cultivator’ for national conference

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Will Dezern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences student who researches how to improve peanuts has been named as UF’s first Cultivator for the 2016 Farm Foundation® Round Table.

Will Dezern, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in plant science from UF CALS, participated the week of June 6 at the discussion forum in Louisville, Kentucky, where he presented a poster on his research. He is one of six students selected nationwide to attend the forum. Student participants are known as “Cultivators.”

“I am very excited about this opportunity to hear from agricultural leaders from around the country,” Dezern said during the conference. “Sometimes it is easy to be very focused on just one area of work, so I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the state of the industry as a whole. I’m very honored to have been chosen to attend the Round Table event, and I hope to come back with new ideas and perspectives.”

CALS Dean Elaine Turner nominated Dezern for the honor.

“He is truly exceptional,” Turner said. “In working with undergraduate students in CALS, we stress the importance of learning outside the classroom and encourage everyone to get involved in something, such as volunteer work, research, study abroad, internships or student organizations. Now and then, we have a student, like Will, who fits all of these into his four-year plan. Participation in the Cultivator program will give him the opportunity to not only share his research with agricultural leaders from around the country, but also make connections that will last a lifetime.”

Dezern focuses his research on the phenotypic, biochemical and genetic characterization of peanuts.

Through his research, Dezern hopes to provide peanut breeders a standardized, updated database to reference and compare peanut lines for their work.

“One area in particular I have focused on is the use of genetic markers to select for increased oleic acid content in peanuts,” he said.

Dezern will start a master’s degree program in agronomy at UF CALS this fall. After earning his graduate degree, Dezern hopes to work as an Extension agent.

The Cultivator program came about after Farm Foundation leaders invited six graduate students from Land Grant universities to be guests at the June 2013 Round Table meeting. When committee members saw the value of student participation, the steering committee recommended formalizing the Cultivator program, said Martha Roberts, director of industry relations for the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. UF CALS is part of UF/IFAS. The term “Cultivator” is used to denote that the group is cultivating new leaders in agriculture, Rhodes said.

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources has been selected as a member of the Farm Foundation Round Table, and he attended this year’s meeting.

Now, up to six upper-class or graduate students from accredited North American colleges or universities participate as Cultivators in each Round Table meeting. After being nominated by administrators, student candidates submit information on their studies and then Farm Foundation representatives select the next class of Cultivators from the candidate pool.

Farm Foundation is a non-advocacy, 501(c)(3) public charity that promotes objective analysis, constructive dialogue and innovative ideas to build a deeper understanding of issues critical to the future of agriculture, food systems and rural communities, according to its website. The foundation does not lobby or advocate.

“Programs are designed to explore ideas, analysis and insights that participants may use in their own work,” Roberts said. “We have had recent discussions on politics, science and economics of public lands; competition for water resources; sustainable agriculture; trade issues; rural development; infrastructure; fostering innovation to feed the world; and the nexus of fossil fuels, renewable fuels and agriculture.”

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Sources: Elaine Turner, 352-392-1961, returner@ufl.edu

Will Dezern, 407-438-1925, wdezern@ufl.edu

Martha Roberts, 850-509-7282, robertm@ufl.edu