agricultural engineer

Ag Engineer Joins UF Scientists to Restore Grapefruit Industry

Daniel CooperResearch, Water

agricultural engineer
Sandra Guzmán

An agricultural engineer whose current research projects include the simulation of agricultural management impacts on water quantity and quality in the upper Floridan aquifer has joined the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC).

Sandra Guzmán will lead the center’s irrigation and hydrology program.

Guzmán started her position as an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering on Nov. 16. She collaborates with a multi-disciplinary group of engineers and scientists representing universities in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. They strive to protect Florida’s water resources at the interface of crop management and food production, with an emphasis in crop-water modeling.

Guzmán joins a team of research professors who support the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s (UF/IFAS) goal to restore Florida’s legendary grapefruit industry.

“Guzmán brings specialized skills to Florida’s unique needs for both watershed protection and wise water use for agricultural production,” said Ronald D. Cave, director of the UF/IFAS IRREC. “As we work to produce fresh grapefruit on trees infected with huanglongbing, Guzmán will assist growers with modeling for maximum yield and conservative use of water resources for commercial production.” 

Huanglongbing, commonly known as citrus greening, has reduced Florida’s citrus production to less than half of what it once was. The bacterium that causes huanglongbing is carried by an invasive insect, the Asian citrus psyllid.

Before her appointment with UF/IFAS, Guzmán began her work with the Floridan Aquifer Collaborative Engagement for Sustainability as a postdoctoral fellow at Auburn University. Leading the program is Wendy Graham, director of the UF Water Institute.

Guzmán’s contribution to the work group is with watershed models of the lower Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin that simulate farm-scale watersheds. The models demonstrate the way nutrients move through the water in the basin.  

Guzmán and the collaborating scientists engage local stakeholders such as crop producers and water managers in developing scenarios that improve their models and to develop sustainable solutions to water issues. 

“Across the year here in Florida we have the two extremes, excess and deficit of water. It is crucial to have the right amount of water at the right time, especially for the current crop and environmental conditions in the region,” said Guzmán.

Guzmán said her program will focus on surface-groundwater management for citrus irrigation. She said there is potential for smart irrigation and machine learning techniques to manage tree health for this region – for trees infected with HLB.  

“My intention is to work collaboratively with the scientists here at IRREC, and to incorporate the needs of the local growers and the industry within my program so we can improve tree production,” said Guzmán.

Guzmán served as a co-principal investigator for a grant in precision irrigation that was supported by both Colombia’s National Learning Service and the U.S. Department of State. To complete her doctorate studies in 2013, she received the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Director’s Fellowship Award.

In 2016, Guzmán was nominated by Mississippi State University for Graduate Research Assistant Student of the Year and the College of Engineering Student Hall of Fame. Officials selected her as a Graduate Student Ambassador for her outstanding performance in academia, leadership and research.

Guzmán completed her doctorate in biological engineering with a concentration in environmental and water resources from Mississippi State University. She earned a master of science in agricultural engineering in 2011, and a bachelor of science in agricultural engineering in 2009, both from the National University of Colombia, Bogotá.

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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