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UF/IFAS supports faculty teams to develop emerging enterprises in Florida

A new UF/IFAS grant program provides over $1 million in funding to further research and education of emerging agricultural enterprises in Florida. This expands traditional crop research to include other enterprises like deer farming, oyster farming and more.

To promote and grow integrated UF/IFAS research and Extension efforts toward emerging agricultural enterprises, the UF/IFAS Dean for Research Office and Dean for Extension Office in partnership with the senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources are investing in the future of research through the Support for Emerging Enterprise Development Integration Teams (SEEDIT) program.

The 19 SEEDIT projects total almost $1.24 million and include 176 faculty and staff, 14 UF/IFAS academic units, and seven research and education centers. Projects represent diverse and novel agricultural sectors for Florida including research to establish a vanilla industry, barley research and facilitating marine baitfish aquaculture industry development.

“We want to make a significant, positive impact on stakeholders’ lives around the state through our research,” said Robert Gilbert, UF/IFAS dean for research. “We want both traditional and new producers to succeed now and for the foreseeable future.”

The SEEDIT project fits into a larger vision of UF/IFAS research to boost partnerships between the university and businesses within the agriculture industry.

“There is a desire for alternative crops and enterprises by our stakeholders around the state,” Gilbert said. “We developed the idea of research and Extension working together to identify chokepoints and alleviate economic barriers to grow these different enterprises.”

When reviewing applications for the SEEDIT grants, the review committee looked for research and Extension teams that would work closely together and had ideas for emerging enterprises. Specifically, new industries and crops that UF/IFAS preliminary data suggests would be promising for the state of Florida.

Teams had to show that they know a lot about the enterprise, can work well together both on the research and the outreach through Extension and that the enterprise is well suited for public-private partnership with industry leaders around the state.

“These research teams are getting larger in scale and more robust as the problems that need solving are increasing in scale and complexity,” said Damian Adams, UF/IFAS interim associate dean for research. “Extension leans in with their network to make the behavior change amongst stakeholders to take on these tricky challenges and team up for science. The only way to start to solve those problems is to pull together a robust team and look at it from as many different perspectives as we can muster.”

While grants like SEEDIT are not new in concept, this is the first program of its kind for UF/IFAS.

“At UF/IFAS we have an amazing diversity of talent,” said Paul Fisher, SEEDIT grant recipient and UF/IFAS environmental horticulture professor and Extension specialist. “Human nature is for us to box ourselves in and as much as we want to collaborate, we often tend to do our own thing. These seed grants are a great way of breaking down barriers and uniting people in teams.”

The goal for the SEEDIT projects is to develop data and information to present back to industry to determine if the proposed enterprises are of interest, and if so, for UF/IFAS to pursue further.

“There are a lot of barriers to overcome in order get a new industry off the ground,” Fisher said. “UF/IFAS has people in all of these areas and realizes you have to take a multidisciplinary approach. This includes specialties in marketing, Extension, production, pest management, disease, postharvest and more.”

The SEEDIT program began before COVID-19, but the program’s importance grew as Florida agriculture faces challenges due to the pandemic.

“The state is working through a crisis and as we come out of it, there will be a real need for business to be done differently,” said Adams. “UF/IFAS is working intentionally to help develop science-driven public and private partnerships to develop new business opportunities and bring new products to market, which is now more crucial than ever before. UF/IFAS is taking a proactive approach to build these partnerships and boost the agricultural economy in Florida which greatly benefits the economy and stakeholders.”

Visit the UF/IFAS research website for a complete list of SEEDIT projects.

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