Kelly Morgan is a more reliable water source for farmers than rain is. You don’t know when or if you’ll get water from the sky, but what Kelly teaches makes every drop you do have go farther.
His focus on the customer – that is, you, the farmer – is what has made Kelly so successful as the state’s best management practices (BMPs) coordinator.
It’s also a big reason I hired him as the new director of the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) in Immokalee. His record of outreach is on the odometer of his car as he has crisscrossed the state to train Extension agents and growers in irrigation and fertilization.
Kelly’s success in Immokalee will have repercussions far beyond Lee, Collier and Hendry counties.
SWFREC is a central player in the battle against citrus greening. It’s making breakthroughs in agricultural technology to shape farming’s future. It’s a leader in the science of wise water use that reduces farmers’ costs and farming’s impact on the environment.
With the stakes that high, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida agriculture needs a well-prepared leader at SWFREC.
Kelly has that preparation. He has worked in the jobs held by the people he’ll now supervise. He has 27 years of experience at UF/IFAS off-campus research centers. He’s been groomed by his predecessor, Calvin Arnold, who gave Kelly increasing responsibility for managing Immokalee for the past two years.
Kelly has also worked hard to maintain strong relationships with growers in Southwest Florida and with Farm Bureau members all over the state.
That won’t change a bit in his new role. County Farm Bureau presidents can expect to hear from Kelly in the coming months about what more we can do for each other. He also aims to increase the center’s involvement in the Farm Bureau CARES Program to promote a wider use of BMPs.
The BMP program is in good hands while we search for a successor to Kelly. One of the state’s leading agricultural water experts, UF/IFAS Extension specialist Jim Fletcher, has agreed to serve as interim coordinator.
Kelly has managed citrus groves, visited countless Florida farms, done decades of research and developed a deep appreciation for the role UF/IFAS research and education centers play in the farming communities they serve.
In fact, UF/IFAS runs 12 off-campus research and education centers statewide with Norman Borlaug’s dying words in mind: “Take it to the farmer.” Science belongs in the hands of its beneficiaries.
A strong leader can be the difference between whether UF/IFAS does a good job at this or a great one. While Kelly won’t be logging as many miles now that he’s staked to Immokalee, he’ll go just as far to serve growers as he always has.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.