Land Grant Partner

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter January 2021

Dr. Angle

By J. Scott Angle

I’ve heard it from you all over the state. If you adhere to UF/IFAS recommended fertilizer application rates, you may reduce yield and already thin profits. Ignore those recommendations and you might be breaking the law.

One of my highest priorities for the new year is to provide the science to lead us out of this conundrum. We will invest in updating our recommendations to keep tens of thousands of farms in business while protecting water quality.

It’s a staggering task, when you think of 300 crops and even varieties within those crops with different nutritional needs. Fertilizer application rates also depend on soil conditions, weather, method of fertilizer application and other factors.

For example, this month we’ll launch research into tomato and potato fertilizer rates in four sites statewide. We will also look for ways to tap into the new resources available through UF’s artificial intelligence initiative (AI).

AI can help us bring together huge amounts of data on plant growth, soil health, weather, irrigation and more to identify when an additional pound of fertilizer is no longer worth the cost or to measure the environmental benefits from farms.

A student of UF/IFAS horticulturist David Liu records water usage data at the Jones Potato Farm.

Florida Farm Bureau members play an important role in this work. You help us ground truth our ideas and innovations. For example, we learned much about the benefits of pivot irrigation in potato fields because Alan Jones let us spend five years visiting his farm in Parrish and documenting on- and off-farm water quality.

Similarly, Rick Roth has opened his gates in Belle Glade to our researchers who have documented the effects of the work he and his peers in the Everglades Agricultural Area are doing to make the water that leaves their farms cleaner than when it entered. In fact, this year we’re reporting that phosphorus loads in EAA water are 68 percent lower this year than when farmers started implementing our recommendations in the early 90s.

The urgency to update fertilizer rates is also a great opportunity. The models we build to predict yield could be expanded to quantify how much phosphorus and nitrogen you remove from water leaving your farm.

We can also add to the model the carbon sequestration, preservation of wildlife habitat, water storage, flood protection, and other services you produce but don’t get paid for. That could inform a public policy discussion of whether you should.

For now, though, you shouldn’t have to choose between breaking the bank and breaking the law. Let’s keep working together to find a third way.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).