Extension Has Always Been a Two-Way Street


By Jack Payne

UF Board of Trustees meeting at the Plant Science Research and Education Unit on Friday, June 9th, 2017.

I hired Marion County Farm Bureau board member Jim Boyer in April to lead the Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra because I needed someone with farming experience. He has nearly 200 years of it.

Jim Boyer’s great-great-great-great grandfather rolled into what is now Marion County decades before Florida was even a state. The family continues to work cattle, sod, timber, and citrus on land in the same area to this day.

Jim has plenty of farming in his brain. He is, after all, a graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. So he’s one of us, the science folks at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

His history means he’s got farming in his blood, too. So he’s one of you.

Jim represents the best of the IFAS-Farm Bureau partnership. He brings tradition and grit together with cutting-edge innovation to keep Florida growing.

There’s an unfortunate amount of suffering in that tradition – for Boyer and for anyone else in Florida who makes their living off the land. Boyer saw his dad’s livelihood destroyed by three freezes in seven years during the 1980s.

In 1962, the family’s packinghouse went up in flames. Boyer has photos of the fire on office wall as a reminder of the risk of constant threats to food production.

He also displays a letter from 1953 from his grandfather to his grandmother. It explains that he couldn’t be at the hospital for her surgery because he had a packinghouse full of fruit that needed to be sold. It’s a testament to the tremendous sacrifice farmers make to feed Florida and beyond.

What drives Jim is a desire to offload some of that risk from growers and to prevent them from having to make agonizing choices between farming and family.

His training prepared him well to run 1,086 acres of world-class research on the Florida farm of the future. The olives, pomegranates, and carinata (a cover crop whose oil can be made into jet fuel) that faculty are growing at Citra are exciting possible alternative crops. They could also turn out to be dead ends.

That’s why we’re taking the gamble for you. It’s worth it, Boyer believes, because he saw Citra experiments pay off when Paul Lyrene created Florida-grown varieties of blueberry. That, too, was once considered a longshot but turned out to be an $80 million-a-year industry.

Jim’s job is to help you by making sure today’s Paul Lyrenes have everything they need to discover the next breakthrough crop or to solve the challenges with your current crops.

IFAS couldn’t have picked someone better than Jim to lead such an important center. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural operations management and his master’s in agronomy at UF. Then he worked most of his career as research coordinator at Citra. He knows how to support discovery.

He also works to serve growers as well as faculty. He gets reminders whenever he talks to his dad about the disease that is killing his citrus trees.

He also gets those reminders every month from his fellow board members at the Marion County Farm Bureau.

 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.