By Larry Duncan
The growers advising the Citrus Research and Development Foundation understand very well the importance of cooperative research projects between growers and scientists. Several years ago, they earmarked a portion of research funding, not for carefully managed laboratory experiments or small plot trials at state, federal or private research centers, but rather for grower-run trials testing potential HLB management tactics in their groves. These Citrus Research and Field Trial (CRAFT) projects are often replicated to evaluate the success of new agricultural practices (new rootstocks, varieties, growth regulators, IPM tactics, etc.) under commercial conditions across large blocks of trees on different farms in different regions.
New ideas tested only in small plots at experiment stations do not capture this variation and may provide an inaccurate picture of what growers throughout an industry can expect. However, the difficulty of accounting for environmental and management variability is mitigated when growers work in cooperation with research scientists.
When growers and researchers test new ideas together, several problems are solved. Resources available for research increase considerably if scientists do not have to pay for the infrastructure and labor needed to establish and properly maintain the trees in their trials. The savings permit experiments to be repeated under different conditions at additional locations. Growers, in turn, pay less for more research by leveraging their investment in establishing and maintaining their groves. These savings are especially crucial when a disease like huanglongbing (HLB) requires urgent research at a time when profitability has seriously declined.
Additionally, when research occurs in commercial groves, learning flows more readily in two directions. While scientists acquire and interpret data for growers, observations by growers often inform important future research. The rapid loss of fibrous roots caused by HLB and the importance of soil pH in modulating the health of HLB-affected trees were noted early on by grower and industry cooperators working with University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers. These observations rapidly changed the course of citrus research and industry practices.
Farmer-scientist cooperative research has been a mainstay of agricultural experiment station programs since their inception in the 19th century. Cooperative research involves partnerships, not provider-customer relationships. Growers and researchers become well acquainted, often for decades, and better aware of the resources and constraints each brings to bear on problem-solving. The advantages are obvious. Growers know how to grow and maintain a grove. They know when, where and how well or badly their trees are performing. Their groves are the perfect laboratory for researchers trained how to study problems within a scientific discipline. Cooperative research exists because the benefits are too important to overlook.
Larry Duncan is a professor at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
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