Integrated Production of Sustainable Crops for Small Farmers in North Florida

Final Report for ES97-030

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $8,375.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $25,341.00
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Gary Knox
University of Florida
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Project Information

Abstract:

This Training Enhancement Project developed educational materials and demonstrations of alternative crops to support training in sustainable agriculture for Extension agents, public agency professionals, and members of the North Florida/South Georgia agricultural community. Four one-day Field Days attracted over 520 participants who learned about sustainable fruit crops, landscape plants, and associated production practices to make these crops more environmentally sustainable. An additional training provided Extension agents with in-depth information on sustainable fruit crops and landscape plants. Educational resources were revised and packaged into handouts that were distributed during the Field Days as well as to interested parties upon request.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this Training Enhancement Project is to develop educational materials and demonstrations of alternative crops and production practices to support training in sustainable agriculture for Extension agents, other public agency professionals, and leaders from the North Florida small farm community.

Specific objectives are to:

1. Train at least 30 county Extension faculty members and at least 30 farmers and other professionals in the concepts of multi-crop farming systems emphasizing native crops and ecologically sound production practices.

2. Assist county faculty in the establishment of demonstration plots utilizing these crops and principles on farms in North Florida.

Introduction:

Farmers in North Florida, especially small farmers, cannot compete successfully in the marketplace with larger farmers either from Florida or nationally in producing traditional agronomic crops such as wheat and corn. Many relied historically on the production of “specialty crops,” where Florida farmers did have a distinct advantage. Tobacco and peanuts are the two outstanding examples. Many of these farmers can no longer compete growing these crops either, due to changes in demand for the products and changes in the structure of federal programs of price supports and other production incentives. At the same time, many of the production practices associated with the traditional North Florida field crops were not ideal from an environmental perspective. Tobacco production, for example, required relatively large fossil-fuel based inputs such as nematicides and fertilizer. Further, over-dependence on one or a few crops produced farming systems and farms that were not resilient to either environmental or economic changes.

Finding alternative crops and enterprises is critical to the economic survival of these operations. The University of Florida has taken several steps to address these problems. We have developed a research program based out of the North Florida Research and Education Center to test alternative production techniques and alternative enterprises. We have devoted a major part of our programming effort in sustainable agriculture to the North Florida small farm population. The statewide Extension Program FL 121, Small Farm Sustainable Agriculture: Alternative Crops and Enterprises for North Florida, is our mechanism for training our faculty and farmers in the more ecologically and economically sound production techniques. We are working to develop farmer organizations in the region that will permit us to reach more farmers, reach them more efficiently, and train Extension and farmer leaders in the region in the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Timothy Crocker
  • Timothy Crocker

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Over the course of the grant, we gathered relevant information and materials, collaborated with personnel from the University of Georgia, revised existing publications, developed new publications and other resources, and presented this and other information at an in-service training and Field Days for county Extension faculty, growers, landscapers, Master Gardeners and others. We developed contacts with county Extension agents, current producers of alternate crops, and potential growers of alternate crops and invited them to the Field Days. Originally the grant proposal called for just two Field Days. But the first two were so successful, we held two additional Field Days in 2001.

Costs for holding the Field Days and for distributing resources were greatly reduced by forging partnerships with other organizations and companies to provide in-kind donations of materials and funds. These additional, external donations greatly reduced the grant costs of the initial proposal and allowed us to sponsor two additional Field Days.

Outreach and Publications

The primary means of outreach was via four Field Days: two in 1999 and two in 2001. In total, over 520 attended these Field Days with participants from Sarasota traveling over 300 miles to participate. The diverse mix of participants reflected the broad appeal of sustainable fruits and ornamentals: 25 individuals from community colleges and other universities came to learn about sustainable cropping, and 29 participants came from the governmental and regulatory sector. The largest number of participants — 284 Master Gardeners — represent an important group in ultimately disseminating information about sustainable fruits and ornamentals. Master Gardeners play very important roles in county Extension Offices by providing information to customers over the phone, holding clinics to answer questions face-to-face, and participating in speakers’ bureaus to make presentations to clubs, associations and other interested residents. Finally, these events also managed to capture the attention of a newspaper (Gainesville Sun-Times) and television station (WCTV, Tallahassee, Florida/Thomasville, Georgia).

Publications were another means of outreach. Resources were packaged, revised or developed. Folders were distributed at the Field Days containing many relevant handouts in addition to the above resources. All publications listed below have been placed on the World Wide Web to be accessed through the University of Florida’s EDIS website (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/). These publications are a ready resource for county Extension agents as well as farmers, nursery/greenhouse growers, landscapers, Master Gardeners and the general public. These publications may be viewed and read on the Web or are available for downloading as a pdf file (to allow for printing a photocopy-ready version). The publications may be found via the search engine or through the menus; a new, more logical menu system has been developed and will be implemented soon, allowing easier access by subject matter.

A. Publications developed or revised:

Andersen, Peter C., Jeffrey G. Williamson, and Timothy E. Crocker. 2000. HS765, Sustainability Assessment of Fruit Crops for North and North Central Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Andersen, Peter C., Timothy E. Crocker. 2000. HS764, Low Chill Apple Cultivars For North And Central Florida.. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Andersen, Peter C. and Timothy E. Crocker. HS763, The Muscadine Grape. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Crocker, T.E. and J.G. Williamson. 2000. CIR611, Deciduous Fruit for North Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Crocker, Timothy E. 1998. HS 20, The Persimmon. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Knox, Gary W. 2000. ENH52, Crape Myrtle in Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Norcini, Jeffrey G. 2000. CIR1246, Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Norcini, Jeffrey G. 1999. ENH 147, Native Wildflowers — Coreopsis Lanceolata L. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Norcini, Jeffrey G., David J. Zimet, Clarence Maura, Sharon Plaff, Mary Anne Gonter. 1999.
CIR1226, Seed Production of a Florida Ecotype of Black -Eyed Susan. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Rose, Andrew J., Timothy E. Crocker, and Peggy C. Hartman. 1999. SS-HS-504, Nursery List for Deciduous Fruit Trees. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Sauls, Julian W. and Larry K. Jackson. 2000. FC36, Fruit Crops Fact Sheet: Cold Hardy Citrus for North Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Williamson, J.G. and T.E. Crocker. 2000. CIR299D, Peaches and Nectarines for Florida. Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611.

Outcomes and impacts:

1. Train at least 30 county Extension faculty members and at least 30 farmers and other professionals in the concepts of sustainable farming systems emphasizing native crops and ecologically sound production practices.

Thirty-nine county Extension faculty, 155 farmers/growers/landscapers, 284 Florida and Georgia Master Gardeners, and many others learned about sustainable crops and cropping of fruits and ornamentals. We were quite overwhelmed by the success of our programs reaching out to these audiences. In addition, 12 publications were developed or revised. These publications have been placed on the University of Florida’s website for viewing as well as easy downloading of a photocopy-ready version for printing and duplication.

2. Assist county faculty in the establishment of demonstration plots utilizing these crops and principles on farms in North Florida.

County Extension faculty participated in developing regional demonstration plots across north Florida at University of Florida research centers in Live Oak, Monticello and Quincy. In addition, three counties developed demonstration plots of their own, and a fourth county is in the process of installing plantings.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The first of the planned in-service trainings occured on November 18, 1998. This activity taught county Extension faculty about sustainable, alternate crops and their production in the north Florida and south Georgia areas. Topics included production of berries and vegetables, fresh and dried flower production, muscadine grape production, potential for wildflower seed production, strawberry production, and production of pecans and other nuts. The array of speakers included county Extension agents and faculty from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. Unfortunately only six county Extension faculty chose to participate in this event.

In contrast, over 260 people participated in the next two planned activities on July 14 and 15, 1999. The two one-day events were combined Field Days for growers/professionals and in-service trainings for county Extension faculty. These “Ornamentals and Fruits Field Days” showcased the University of Florida’s collections and field plantings of ornamentals, native plants and fruits at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Monticello. Using an “open house” format, the one-day training was offered to over 120 growers, other professionals and county Extension faculty on July 14, and was repeated for over 140 Master Gardeners and county Extension faculty on July 15. Extension Specialists from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia gave guided tours and provided commentary about growth, production, functional use, sustainability and aesthetic value of the fruit, native and ornamental species viewed during the tours. Plantings featured in tours and presentations were crape myrtles, native wildflowers, native grasses, pecans, figs, citrus, grapes, blueberries, and ornamental vines. Speakers included county Extension agents and faculty from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. An additional presentation by an entomologist discussed concepts of sustainability associated with Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

These events were so successful that two additional one-day Field Days were held in 2001. About 80 growers, landscapers and county Extension agents attended the Field Day on July 11. Over 180 Master Gardeners and county Extension agents came from as far away as Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Bradenton to participate in the NFREC-Monticello Field Day on July 12. These Ornamentals and Fruits Field Days provided information on producing and using landscape plants and fruits that are particularly well adapted to North Florida and similar regions in South Georgia and Alabama. Faculty gave walking tours of plantings and provided commentary about growth, production, functional use, and aesthetic value. The program offered CEUs for the Florida Certified Nursery Professional (FCNP) program and the Florida Pesticide Applicator License. Topics included native wildflowers, container and seed production of wildflowers, crape myrtles, ornamental vines, pecans, blueberries, and muscadine grapes. An additional presentation focused on Integrated Pest Management for fruit crops, nursery production, and maintenance of landscapes.

Faculty assisted other University of Florida sites and county Extension agents in developing demonstration plots. Extensive demonstration plantings are located at three regional sites across north Florida: the North Florida Research and Education Center in Live Oak, the North Florida Research and Education Center in Monticello and the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. Other demonstration plantings exist at county Extension offices in Alachua, Clay, and Bradford Counties. An additional demonstration planting is in the process of being installed at the Gadsden County Extension facility.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

This professional development program demonstrated interest in sustainable fruits and ornamentals. Farmers/growers/landscapers would benefit from economic information regarding costs of production/use as compared to conventional systems.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.