The Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center farm serves as a research and demonstration facility. Its strategic location (close to Gainesville and I-75) attracts UF faculty members and grad students from campus and other units as well as County Extension Agents as an effective site to perform science based trials. Throughout the years federal and state agencies and other types of organizations, including private companies, have also chosen this facility for their research needs because of its unique location in relation to the agricultural industry, the soil type typical of the region, the close relationship with the industry, and the strong Extension outreach capacity. Several academic departments of UF have faculty who lead research programs at SVAEC including: Horticultural Sciences, Agronomy, Soil and Water Science, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Plant Pathology, Entomology & Nematology, and Food Science and Human Nutrition. Examples of the types of research trials being conducted include: nutrient and water management, cultivar development and evaluation, Best Management Practices (BMPs), food safety, protected culture, evaluation of new crops for the region, and managing pests (insects, diseases, weeds and nematodes).
The goal of the SVAEC farm is to provide relevant scientific updates on products and varieties that farmers in the area can use to improve their own operations. With over 200,000 acres dedicated to agronomic crops in the Suwannee River Water Management District, SVAEC faculty and staff welcome collaboration with industry, government and university researchers to help our extension programs. Below is a list of demonstration studies and applied research being conducted at the SVAEC:
- Corn- Irrigation and nutrient management, Industry sponsored varietal trial, BMP production demonstration and On-farm fertility demonstrations and Potassium rate study.
- Peanuts- Irrigation and nutrient management, Breeding evaluation, Fungicide trial, Nozzle droplet coverage efficacy and Industry sponsored fungicide trial.
- Sorghum- Breeding nursery for grain and biofuel variety advancement and Industry trial for new cultivars of sorghum.
- Carinata- Genotype screening for North Florida, Fertility Trials for optimal yields and Commercial/On-farm production trials with recommended programs.
A number of horticultural crops are planted for research trials in the fields and under various protected culture structures at SVAEC. Research trials in the field include crops such as tomato, pepper, squash, watermelon, cole crops, carrot and sweet potato. The greenhouse and other protected agriculture research trials include a wide range of vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and cut flowers; however, the emphasis is on leafy greens, tomato, cucumber, colored bell pepper, and fresh cut herbs like basil and chives. The Center also has a four acre area dedicated to research on organic cropping systems for vegetables. The wide range of research programs for vegetable crops being conducted reflects the diverse industry in the region, both in the field and under protected culture. The research programs are in place to find solutions to the challenges facing the region’s vegetable industry with the emphasis on developing new and alternative specialty crops and production systems, efficient technologies as related to water and nutrient management, integrated pest management systems, and the impact of the use and timing of application on various animal manures and other practices on food safety.
Irrigation and nutrient management research at the SVAEC is focused on water conservation and increasing water/nutrient use efficiencies. Soil moisture sensors are being used to develop more efficient irrigation schedules, make better use of rainfall, reduce groundwater pumping, reduce nutrient runoff/leaching, maximize soil water storage and make better irrigation management decisions. Variable rate irrigation technology is being used to test irrigation strategies to identify effective strategies for the Suwannee Valley area. Drip irrigation/fertigation trials are being conducted to offer alternative, water conserving technologies for local vegetable growers. Irrigation research at the SVAEC is conducted using state-of-the-art technology to keep Suwannee Valley growers on the cutting edge. Smart-phone applications and other web based apps are currently being developed in collaboration with research conducted on-farm at the SVAEC.
Projects at the SVAEC center in Live Oak and local surrounding farms build off Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) guidelines for Best Management Practices, including the Vegetable and Agronomic Crops Manual. Through these research projects, we aim to improve crop production while limiting the environmental impact on our springs and rivers. Using research projects to demonstrate techniques and tools to growers with hands-on workshops and one-on-one technical assistance will hopefully improve their adoption and positively impact their bottom line. A few of the projects underway include: evaluating various soil moisture sensors (see extension page), on-farm corn fertility trials, sod-based rotation (SBR) with agronomic crops and cattle, grid sampling and variable rate fertilizer application, strategic soil mapping with appropriate fertility inputs, irrigation and nutrient management in corn and peanut, nitrogen rate management in conventional vegetables (watermelon and carrot), and developing a nutrient BMP for organic carrots.
Applied research in agricultural economics at the SVAEC is designed to support farmers, County Extension Agents, and other stakeholders in North Florida. The current focus is on developing enterprise budgets for North Florida, conducting economic analysis of BMPs and farm decisions, and supporting Extension programs. Agricultural economics programs at the SVAEC are led by Kevin Athearn. Statewide programs in agricultural economics are housed in the Food and Resource Economics Department.