UF/IFAS Remains Resilient Amid COVID-19 Challenges

Tacy Callies Agriculture

Christa Court
(UF/IFAS photo by Tyler L. Jones)

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) hosted a virtual statewide discussion for stakeholders on June 8 to provide an update on its initiatives. The emphasis was on efforts and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the webinar, Nick Place, UF/IFAS Extension dean and director, highlighted Extension’s efforts to address the COVID-19 challenges.

“This has been a very unprecedented time for all of us,” said Place. “I’ve been really impressed to see the pivot that our people have done in relation to the work with their research, their teaching and their Extension programs. It’s been incredible to see what has happened here over the last couple of months.”

Starting March 23, UF/IFAS moved most of its staff off-site to comply with state orders. However, employees were able to find ways to adapt and overcome restrictions to ensure information was still getting to the public.

UF/IFAS Extension and Research personnel across the state have rallied with producers, industry groups and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to compile farm-to-consumer resources. Meanwhile, Extension personnel are bringing information to youth and families virtually. Florida 4-H Adventures is offering more than 45 virtual summer programs, with 1,200 youth registered to date.

In addition, UF/IFAS researchers are adapting to safely maintain research programs and preserve years of current and future work. Critical projects continue to move forward, including citrus, endangered species and disease research. Learn more about how work at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center is progressing.

In the midst of COVID-19, UF/IFAS researchers have also completed a wide-range study examining the impacts of the virus on the state’s agriculture and marine industries.

The Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Florida, conducted April 16–May 15, was developed to gauge industry impacts. The surveys covered agriculture/aquaculture production; processing and transportation; commercial fishing; for-hire/charter fishing operations; seafood wholesale dealers; and marine recreation support businesses. Results show agricultural and marine industries have taken a huge hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to John Lai, UF/IFAS agribusiness assistant professor, seasonality affected the responses within certain agricultural commodities.

For some of the operations impacted by COVID-19, the pandemic hit exactly when crops came into season. The spring months are particularly busy for South Florida growers as crops are ready to be harvested, so they took a big hit. However, Lai expects that when another round of surveys are sent out, other commodity growers will have been impacted as they enter the peak of their harvest time.

According to Lai, horticultural crops recorded the biggest impact to sales revenue, with an average sales decrease of 46 percent. The livestock and aquaculture group reported average sales revenue declines of 40 percent. However, there were wide ranges of sales revenues changes reported within each commodity group, with some groups reporting positive results.

Based on the survey estimates, Florida agriculture is expected to have a total loss of approximately $894 million.

Christa Court, director of the Economic Impact Analysis Program, plans to conduct another survey this summer to capture new and continued impacts from the virus.

UF/IFAS will also be leading a collaboration with Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University to collect stories from the growers and industries that have been impacted by COVID-19.

Court’s hope is that Florida agriculture comes out of the pandemic stronger and more knowledgeable so that it can create a food system that is more resilient than ever before.

This article was written by Ashley Robinson, AgNet Media communications intern.