Whether in the field or from home, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) citrus staffers are working for growers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael Rogers, director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center at Lake Alfred, tells how.
“We still are doing business right now,” Rogers says. “IFAS continues to provide support in any way that we can to growers” while following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, he says.
“We continue to have a small number of our essential personnel that are still reporting to work to take care of those essential tasks – things that have to be done at our research facilities,” Rogers says. That includes caring for insect colonies and for “very valuable plant germplasm,” he says. Some are also collecting data, he adds, pointing out that only one person is allowed in a lab at a time. “People are able to get some tasks done so we don’t lose any progress that we’ve made over the past year or years or decades on our research.”
“We’ve also got folks continuing to go to the field,” Rogers adds. “It’s a lot safer really to be out in the field.” He points out that UF/IFAS has a number of long-term field trials running, and that some are “very time sensitive.” He cites projects on postbloom fruit drop, black spot and HLB as among those that are time sensitive. Among other field tasks, Rogers notes that staffers are taking care of irrigation systems, including unclogging micro-sprinkler emitters clogged by ants.
Extension agents are working on programs that can be delivered to growers electronically, Rogers says. One such program is the annual Florida Citrus Growers Institute in Avon Park, which had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. Work is being done to record presentations that were planned for this event, so growers can access the information online.
UF/IFAS scientists continue to work on research projects and also write grant proposals to obtain new funding for HLB research, Rogers says.
“We’re still all available,” Rogers emphasizes. He urges growers with questions to call, email or text their citrus Extension agents, who will “get the answers that you need or the help that’s needed.”
This interview with Rogers is featured in the April episode of the All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.
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