Research Pushes Forward in COVID-19 Era

Tacy CalliesCOVID-19, Research

Zachary Brym researches hemp at the Tropical Research and Education Center.

As Florida moved to “safer at home” measures, not all University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) research projects could be put on pause. There are living plants, animals and insects to feed and maintain. Some projects have regular monitoring procedures for which postponement could have broader environmental consequences.

“We are very proud of our faculty, staff and students for continuing their essential research safely during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Robert Gilbert, dean for UF/IFAS Research and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. “We have approved many critical and time-sensitive research projects as this situation has evolved, and we continue to do so, with the number of approved projects well over 1,000 at this point. We expect other ongoing projects to ramp up in the near future.”

“Our projects are continuing, but we have adapted to reflect COVID health and safety concerns to keep our research teams safe,” said Damian Adams, interim associate dean for UF/IFAS Research. “Some programs were able to transition very well to remote work and were largely uninterrupted or even accelerated.”

Below is just a sampling of the projects that have continued during the pandemic.

  • Out of the Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, professor of nematology Larry Duncan leads a study for citrus grove nematode management. Florida citrus growers, whose success is already being challenged by widespread citrus greening, rely on UF/IFAS to recommend best practices for a productive fruit yield. Disrupted continuity of Duncan’s project would have caused a two-year delay in recommendations as well as potential productivity losses in CREC’s citrus groves.
  • With the UF/IFAS hemp program beginning its second year, a delay could affect future plantings and research. The program, led by Zachary Brym, agronomy assistant professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, requires continuous maintenance of the fields to remain in a cultivatable status, which are now in the process of being planted with hemp. In addition, on-farm trials around the state are slated to begin soon. This critical work will help the fledgling industry by providing growers with guidance for success.
  • From the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, a team led by algae expert Dail Laughinghouse, an assistant professor, keeps tabs on the quality of several water bodies: Lake Okeechobee, Lake Tohopekaliga, St. Lucie Canal and St. Lucie Estuary. The project conducts monthly sampling to remain on the forefront of the fight against harmful algal blooms and their toxins, which present a constant threat to environmental and public health. Long-term data and continuous monitoring are necessary to support the understanding of triggers and dynamics of these toxic blooms.

 “This crisis has highlighted the importance of Florida agriculture more than ever,” Gilbert said. “The pandemic has presented difficult conditions for our researchers to adapt to professionally and at home but working as a team has made us well-positioned to ramp up research quickly and safely to serve our stakeholders around the state. We value our partnerships with funding agencies and grower groups to perform this impactful research.”

Gilbert adds that UF/IFAS is investing in new research that will kick-start new interdisciplinary studies, as well as research into emerging opportunities for Florida agriculture.

Source: UF/IFAS