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Balm research center hosts state agricultural expo

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By MELODY JAMESON

BALM – Weeds, insects and diseases may not be everyone’s preferred luncheon conversation, but for the state’s vegetable growers they’ll be topics of choice here next week.

FL-Ag-Expo-logoThe fifth annual Florida Ag Expo, when growers, scientists and businesses that serve the agricultural industry dedicate the day to exchanging useful information fueled with a country dinner table meal, gets underway at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, November 10. Held on the sprawling grounds of the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), a University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) facility on C.R. 672 east of Balm, the event is open to the public.

In keeping with its name, the GCREC focus for the day is educational, giving growers an open window on current research, opportunities to hear from and question many of the center’s faculty on specific subjects and chances to exchange their problem-solving farm experiences, said Christine Cooley, expo spokesperson.

Following brief opening remarks by Dr. Jack Rechcigl, center director, and Dr. Jack Payne, UF/IFAS senior vice president from Gainesville, the discussions, mini-seminars and field tours begin with a Growers’ Roundtable at 8:40 AM considering current issues facing the vegetable industry, Cooley said.

Facilitated by Gene McAvoy, regional vegetable and horticultural extension service agent from Hendry County, the roundtable includes a half dozen of the state’s most hands-on growers and shippers, including Tony DiMare, Billy Heller, D.C. McClure, Chuck Obern, David Pensebene and Jamie Williams. The panel also is expected to field questions from attendees, Cooley added.

After a 30-minute refreshment break, the first section of mini-workshops moderated by Crystal Snodgrass, vegetable agent with the Manatee County extension service, is scheduled for 10: 20 AM. In 20-minute segments anchored by UF and University of Georgia scientists in disciplines related to plant production , a variety of inter-connected subjects will be discussed, she said. Dr. Keith Schneider, of the UF/IFAS food sciences department, will address “Food Safety Issues in the US and What We’re Doing About It in Florida,” for example, while Dr. Gary Vallad, of the GCREC faculty, will be on tap to overview the challenges of managing bacterial diseases in tomato and pepper growing, Cooley noted. In addition, Dr. James Price, GCREC, takes on the destructive Spotted-Wing Drosophila and its “Impact on Small Fruits.” The various specialists also will answer questions from the audience, she added.

StrawberryFieldDayBalm055During generally the same time frame, at least two of the center’s 40-seat trams will take visitors to the various growing and proving fields, beginning at 10:30 AM, Cooley said. On the schedule are advances in cultural practices such as soilless growing conditions for tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, along with demonstration of chemical control of early blight and management of tomato bacterial spot. Other tours will highlight the management of whiteflies and advances in the weed sciences and several tomato variety trials, including the large rounds, plum and grape/cherry sizes.

After stoking up at the complimentary lunch spread during a 90-minute noon break, attendees can choose between a second round of educational seminars and the several field tours through the experimental growing areas maintained by the research center as part of its mission to develop and test various growing methods.

Alicia Whidden, a Hillsborough County vegetable agent, will moderate Session II slated for 1:20 PM to deal with fruit crops and with farming chemicals, Cooley said. Dr. Jonathan Crane, a scientist from the South Florida IFAS research center at Homestead, will cover the potential for tropical and sub-tropical fruit crops and Dr. Bielinski Santo, on the GCREC faculty, is to review improvements in management of the water approach to freeze protection for strawberries. During the same session, Dan Botts, of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, will cover new regulations for use of fumigants and Dr. Andrew MacRae, GCREC, is to review proper selection of alternatives to methyl bromide for elimination of weeds.

For those more interested in the field tours, the morning schedule of field visits will be repeated during the early afternoon, beginning at 1:30 PM, Cooley added.

The last educational hour of the day is given over to the bugs that bug many farmers, she said. On tap are Dr. David Schuster, GCREC, talking about challenges and possibilities in managing the whitefly, and Dr. Doug Reston Gaskill, author of the US Department of Agriculture Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey, who will preview potential future pests impacting Florida. Another USDA scientist, Dr. Scott Adkins, also will overview the invasive exotic viruses in vegetables during the session opening at 3:10 PM.

Another new feature of the 2010 ag expo, Cooley pointed out, will be the poster exhibit and competition for UF graduate students and candidates for doctoral degrees in the wide range of plant related sciences. The advanced degree candidates have produced posters pertaining to their specific areas of study and these colorful visions will be displayed on the front patio of the center throughout the day, she added. One or more winners are to receive a $500 cash reward announced at the end of the day.

Throughout the day, dozens of vendor booths also will be open and staffed on the grounds north of the main center building, Cooley said.

Opened in 2005 and consolidating two ag centers formerly located in Manatee County, the Gulf Coast REC at Balm now has a faculty of 16 scientists conducting research, teaching, administering programs and hosting visitors from other nations. Nine different disciplines are represented on the faculty, from vegetable plant breeding and genetics to entomology and nematode investigations, from soil and water sciences to landscaping methods.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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