One Hundred Years of Agronomy & Plant Pathology Delivering Solutions in the Florida Panhandle
by Ramdeo Seepaul & Sheeja George
Communication between researchers, Extension agents, and farmers has evolved, from stacks of paper note messages stating problems in farmer fields to instant solutions delivered at the click of a button on the smartphone. But while the modes of solution delivery from the UF/IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy have changed, the central mission remains the same: to equip farmers in the Florida Panhandle to produce food, fuel, and fiber sustainably and profitably.
As we celebrate a milestone 100 years of the Center’s pursuit of this mission, we recognize both the triumphs of the past and the innovations still to come.
“Sustainable” may not have been part of the everyday vocabulary in production agriculture a few decades ago, but it certainly was a concept already in practice. Farms would rear cattle near tobacco fields to use the manure to fertilize them, others would graze cattle and grow crops together, and crop rotation has long been an intentional method of keeping the land fertile.
But with new technology, the ability to transition to large-scale production brought about the need to separate crop production from cattle rearing or to adopt monocultures over crop rotation.
If the NFREC-Quincy’s role in agricultural research and Extension could be described in a few words, it would be “helping farmers adapt.” This is as true now as it was when visionaries came together 100 years ago to make the Center a reality.
Adapting to the new reality of large-scale production, advancing rainfed agriculture using strip-till, responding to emerging pests and diseases, or figuring out how much nitrogen is just right for the crop – Scientists at Quincy have always stayed ahead of the curve to bring the latest science to the farmer.
The agronomy and plant pathology disciplines have always paired up at the Quincy REC to provide well-rounded answers to new challenges in the field. Of the many impactful outcomes throughout its history, notable ones include sod-based rotation and solutions for managing cotton hard lock, soybean rust, and tomato spotted wilt virus.
Multi-disciplinary, systems-level research, well-integrated with the outreach of Extension, is at the core of NFREC. The Center’s agronomists and plant pathologists seek out collaborations with scientists who specialize in fields like soil science, nematology, entomology, or animal sciences. These interdisciplinary collaborations lead to greater understanding in matters like crop performance and disease management, as well as unveiling a clearer picture on how to bring back integrated crop-livestock farming to the region or build soil health without breaking the bank.
And they don’t need to go too far to seek out this expertise. The experts are right across the hallway or in the office next door. At the NFREC, the ingredients for success and meaningful impact to agriculture – in the Panhandle and across the globe – is right here, and it is amplified by the power of Extension, the infrastructure to support long-term systems-level research afforded by the land-grant mission, laboratories, field equipment, facilities and resources at the REC.
These efforts are further supported by partnerships with farmers in the region and state, federal and private agencies, including the USDA-NIFA, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), water management district, and others.
The North Florida Research and Education Center will continue to develop solutions to help farmers lead the way in responding to society’s challenges to come: feeding the billions, growing more with less, and protecting our air, soil, and water.
Ramdeo Seepaul is an assistant research scientist and Sheeja George is a biological scientist, both with the agronomy department at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.
Acknowledgments: The authors wish to thank Drs. David Wright and Jim Marois for sharing their memories and several anecdotes with them which made this article possible.
References: Annual Research Reports of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.