IMMOKALEE – Nov. 18-25 is National Farm-City Week, a time set aside to recognize and honor the contributions of the country’s agriculturalists and to strengthen the bond between urban and rural citizens. The agricultural and natural resources industries of the five-counties of Southwest Florida (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee), contribute more than 9 billion dollars annually. More than 40% of the land in the five-county region of SW Florida is in agriculture, totaling 1.3 million-plus acres. In addition to the economic contribution, agriculture in SW Florida contributes immensely to the region’s water recharge, wildlife habitat, ecotourism and other intangible benefits.
The farmers of SW Florida, assisted by cutting-edge research generated by UF/IFAS, growers, and ranchers, have adopted agricultural best management practices proving that they have been good stewards of the land for generations. The dollars and jobs generated in the rural, agricultural areas of our SW Florida counties are spent in the urban cities, adding to the total prosperity of our region. The faculty and staff at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) join with all Floridians to celebrate the 65th anniversary of National Farm-City Week and recognize the contributions of our local farmers, farmworkers, growers, and ranchers to our economy, our food supply, and our society.
The following are a few of the numerous projects underway by SWFREC personnel—both on property and in cooperative grower vegetable fields and citrus groves:
• Utilizing drones and artificial intelligence in citrus groves to count tree numbers and size as well as conduct nutrient analysis.
• Research to improve nutrient and water use management for BMPs in citrus and vegetables to reduce environmental impact.
• Research on growing citrus under protective screens (CUPS) for individual trees or high-density plantings.
• Developed a COVID 19 training program for farm labor supervisors to educate their workers about staying safe during the pandemic. The program has given about six presentations to approximately 800 people in south Florida.
• Improved HLB control methods through application of compounds and nutrients.
• Assessment of organic matter and cover crops to improve soil health and sustainability.
• Improved efficiency in application of insecticides and herbicides.
• Improved disease management of tomatoes and watermelon.
• The SWFREC Plant Diagnostic Clinic receives samples for weed, insect, and plant disease identification.
• SWFREC assisted in the design of a demonstration grove at the Edison/Ford Estates in Fort Myers to educate seasonal visitors and residents about the impact of citrus to SW FL’s economy.
Florida farmers compete in the global marketplace and they can no longer compete on the basis of cheap land or labor; they must compete on the basis of technology and innovation. Looking to the future, the world will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the last 10,000 years since civilization began—and farmers will have to accomplish this with fewer resources and less environmental impact. Agriculture will continue to provide jobs and support the economic wellbeing of Florida by improved production practices driven by innovation and new technology developed by the partnership between UF/IFAS, agricultural producers, and related industries.