February 2022 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter
By J. Scott Angle
Even when Ronald Norris breaks even growing corn on his 70 acres north of Lake City, he says, it’s not by much. Yet he owns a soil moisture sensor, a no-till drill and a side dressing rig to apply fertilizer by the row instead of broadcasting it.
Norris monitors his plants’ health and whether nutrients escape his farm by sending soil and tissue samples to labs. He dedicates part of his acreage to experiments to identify how to be more efficient with fertilizer. He also owns something money can’t buy—Farm Bureau recognition as an environmental steward.
UF/IFAS Columbia County Extension agent Jay Capasso has a hand in just about all of it. His hands take samples, harvest corn and assists with calibrating equipment. They also strike the right keys on a computer that has allowed Norris to accumulate the equipment and know-how that have kept him in business.
Norris says that without Capasso, he likely would have quit farming. Capasso has been a pipeline to the funding that has covered almost all of the tens of thousands of dollars invested in the machines, lab testing and harvesting on experimental plots.
Capasso showed up three years ago on Norris’s farm with modest grant funding and the desire to make an impact. Norris was intrigued by an opportunity to learn. The two put a $5,000 Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) grant to use testing different ways to fertilize corn. Capasso kept writing grant proposals.
On the advice of UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center-Suwannee Valley BMP outreach coordinator Joel Love, Capasso secured more than $30,000 for a no-till drill to plant cover crops without disturbing Norris’s soil.
Capasso helped Norris learn how to use the soil moisture sensor that cost the farmer only pennies on the dollar through the Suwannee River Water Management District’s (SRWMD) agricultural cost-share program. It has saved him hundreds of dollars in reduced water bills through a 40 percent reduction in irrigation without sacrificing yield.
Capasso is still active on the keyboard, securing further FDACS funding to continue research on the Ronald Norris Farm on how best to apply fertilizer to his corn.
Last year Capasso supported a nomination submitted to the Florida Farm Bureau that earned him an award from Suwannee CARES, a cooperative effort of the Farm Bureau, UF/IFAS, SRWMD, FDACS and the Suwannee River Partnership to honor environmental stewards.
Norris loves producing food and treasures the heritage of growing corn on land his grandfather and great-grandfather worked. He loves it so much that he spent 34 years farming on the side after hours during a career at the Florida Department of Transportation before becoming a full-time farmer.
Now he has more time to spend on science and with a scientist whose career is just getting started. As farmers face increasing scrutiny of their management of nutrients, you need that science more than ever.
That puts a land-grant university in a position to help you more than ever. We’re hard at work updating statewide nutrient recommendations. At the same time, right source, right rate, right time and right place are farm-to-farm things. Capasso and Norris are figuring out those 4Rs in Deep Creek. In so doing, they’re figuring out how a small farmer can afford to do what he loves to do.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).