Land Grant Partner

FloridAgriculture eNewsletter February 2021

Gene McAvoy has been writing a Florida pest-of-the-month column for 20 years. He has almost never had a repeat.

Every Thursday or Friday, Farm Bureau members across South Florida get a visit from Craig Frey, who succeeded Gene as director of UF/IFAS Extension Hendry County. In a single day each week, Craig adds about 250 miles to the 200,000 he already has on his Ford Explorer, collecting traps set for McAvoy’s October 2020 pest, the Asian bean thrip.

All of us in Florida agriculture are sentries on alert for pests, a new species of which is said to arrive every month in Florida. Extension agents, farmers, private sector scouts, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the FDACS Division of Plant Industry and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are among those in the all-hands-on-deck effort.

This heroic effort must be maintained as long as there’s a thrip threat, another psyllid to watch for, another beetle. My vision for keeping pests off your produce is to expand the UF/IFAS arsenal of expertise.

Photo by Adah Joy Frey
Photo by Adah Joy Frey

Research and Extension are the way we take the fight to the pest. The more we know about invasive pests before their arrival, the more we can turn our eternal campaign against them from whack-a-mole in your fields to targeted strategic takeout of invaders before they get a six-legged foothold on your crop.

My job is to get our scientists the resources they need to address your problems. Key to that quest to compete for limited federal research dollars is telling our story with examples of the scientist-farmer partnership that testifies to the relevance of the research.

Examples like Chuck Obern. He leaves the gate open at his C&B Farms in Clewiston so Craig can get in and out of the bean field quickly so that his 11-hour day collecting traps doesn’t become a 12-hour day. Chuck also shares observations with Craig that Extension can in turn share with other growers.

Arguably, invasive species are already at the top of our research and Extension agenda when you consider the massive resources we’ve dedicated to fighting the Asian citrus psyllid that delivers the scourge of HLB. But there are so many threats to so many crops that deserve attention, too.

By some estimates, every agricultural research dollar has a $20 payoff in productivity. Even if that estimate is inflated (and I don’t believe it is), intuitively we know that prevention guided by publicly funded science is a better deal for you than costly eradication that comes out of your bottom line.

I’d like nothing better than to have Gene McAvoy run out of things to write about. But I’m OK with paying the gas and repair bills for Craig Frey’s Explorer.  The wear and tear on his vehicle tell me he’s where I want him to be, on your farms helping solve your problems, pests or not.

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).