University of Florida and University of Georgia feed, fuel the world through new crop
We didn’t give an inch to each other on October 29, but on October 30, the University of Florida and University of Georgia returned to working together on thousands of acres creating regional prosperity through plants.
If you love peaches and peanuts, drink OJ for breakfast, wear Gator or Bulldog T-shirts, or live in a wood-frame house, you’re part of why the food, agriculture and natural resources sector is Georgia’s number one industry and second in Florida only to tourism.
Even the sky’s no limit for what our states’ farmers and agricultural scientists can achieve together.
For the last five years, they’ve been developing a new regional industry based on a crop that gets turned into jet fuel.
Throughout November, farmers spread out from the Panhandle of Florida to Tifton, Georgia are planting something they had never tried before on more than an experimental basis – carinata, a plant in the mustard family.
Our economy depends on cooperation between our public universities to create industries with such promise.
As land-grant universities, we’re committed to discovery and innovation powered by an alliance of academia, industry and government.
Faculty members at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy and elsewhere in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and at the University of Georgia have done the field work to write the how-to manuals for farmers to turn the Southeast into carinata country.
Much of their work has been funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and our universities have partnered with a seed company that is contracting with farmers to buy their harvest.
So we’ve not only delivered farmers the know-how to produce a new crop, we’ve virtually guaranteed them a market to sell as much as they can produce.
It gets better.
Carinata is being grown in Georgia and Florida fields that might otherwise have lain fallow for the winter.
This means more money for farmers, money they’ll inject into the local economy buying supplies and paying employees.
And we also benefit when we can grow part of our own fuel supply.
It sounds like all upside, but if it’s your farm, it’s taking a chance on something new.
That’s why land-grant universities are key to the success of emerging enterprises like carinata.
Farmers trust their land-grant universities because of more than a century of outreach we call Extension.
It puts the University of Florida and University of Georgia faculty members in every county in our states educating farmers on the most efficient way to grow crops or raise animals, to show producers how to comply with regulations and to help them evaluate the claims of salespeople.
Farmers trust us because we don’t try to sell them anything.
They get our advice for free.
What we do ask them to buy into in the case of carinata is a vision that there never has to be an offseason for agriculture in the Southeast.
We believe the future of the planet depends on this kind of buy-in.
Worldwide we need to produce more food by midcentury than we have in the last 10,000 to keep up with population growth.
It’s on the Southeast to lead the productivity gains necessary to feed the future.
We have the advantages of a year-round growing season, reliable water supply and a climate similar to the fastest-growing regions of the world where our agricultural innovation can be applied.
Meanwhile, there are substantial obstacles to productivity gains in many other areas of the world.
The bathtub rings at Lake Mead illustrate the threat to the West’s water supply. Europe’s policies on how food is produced could result in lower yields. Climate change threatens freshwater availability that is essential to irrigation-dependent regions of China and India.
Feeding and fueling the world is good business for the Southeast.
Each time we figure out how to grow something here that we had traditionally imported, we not only increase our self-reliance, but we foster sales, jobs, ancillary businesses and tax revenue.
Our universities’ teamwork will continue to support the people who feed, clothe and shelter you.
If our carinata work succeeds, it might even help you get from the Atlanta airport to the Gainesville airport.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). He is the former dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Nick Place is Dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He is the former Dean of UF/IFAS Extension.
J. Scott Angle and Nick Place – Guest Columnists