University of Florida Training Grant- MSP22

Progress report for SFL22-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $10,853.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Florida
Region: Southern
State: Florida
State Coordinator:
Dr. Marilyn Swisher
University of Florida
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Project Information


Florida activities for 2022-23 will build upon the basic framework for the model state program. Planned activities include integrating results of SARE funded research and Extension activities, and other relevant research, and using this information as resources for educational programs. We also plan to continue to strengthen our focus on targeted training for state and county Extension faculty, representatives of non- profit organizations, representatives of state and federal government agencies, and farmer representatives. To fulfill the priorities and objectives of our program, our training funds will be used to address programs in three subject matter areas: (1) new and emerging solutions for Florida agricultural production, (2) advancing Extension capacity in sustainable agriculture, and (3) entrepreneurial innovation in sustainable agriculture. Our expected outcomes are: (1) Extension faculty will participate in SARE in-service training programs and use this information in their own programming, (2) Extension faculty will participate in regional and national training programs in sustainable agriculture and apply the lessons learned in their own programming, (3) at least two of the statewide Extension priority teams will include information and resources about sustainable agriculture and SARE in their professional development training programs and Extension programming, (4) through SARE, Extension agents and farmers will identify opportunities for the development, outreach, and research of alternative crops and enterprises, (5) regional and local county agents will develop new collaborations with organizations, agencies, and groups working in sustainable agriculture, and (6) Extension faculty and agents will make increased use of resources to support programming in sustainable agriculture.

Project Objectives:

The 2022-23 Florida SARE programming builds upon our previous years’ work in two ways. (1) We continue to focus on outreach and training that enhances the environmental and economic benefits of production agriculture. (2) We continue to host trainings that emphasize local and regional food systems to address issues and policies that impact our food system. We continue to address the changing training needs of state and county faculty. (1) County, regional and state Extension personnel continue to press for more training in how to develop research and outreach proposals and how to assemble and train teams to implement their projects. We will continue to expand this training to include identification of potential funding sources (public and private). (2) County faculty want more access to cutting edge research in sustainable ag to reduce the time between research and adoption. We are accommodating this need by involving county faculty in field assessments of various research projects.
Through this venue, county faculty have a voice in the development of research projects and in the data generation process. (3) We will expand our training program that integrates grower and technical advisor input into ecological and biological research to enhance research outcomes to include farmer-designed on-farm trials and stakeholder advisory panels. This program helps extension faculty strengthen the outreach and evaluation components of extension projects. (4) One of the most useful roles we play for IFAS faculty members is to gather preliminary data regarding grower needs, barriers and priorities. We will develop protocols for this kind of data collection and continue to work with faculty members to facilitate the data collection. These data are often critical to the development of good grant proposals.


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Educational approach:

Our educational approach for our “sustainable solutions for Florida agricultural production” initiative has two components:

  1. To provide in-service trainings where the target audience consists of Extension agents, producers’ associations, non-profit, state, and local organizations, and private sector technical advisers.
  2. To facilitate participation by Extension agents, growers and industry representatives, and representatives of non-profit, state, and local organizations in on-farm and on-station research, grower assessments of demonstration and research trials including annual events at any of Florida Research & Extension Centers, field days on-farm and on-station, and workshops

Our educational approach for our “advancing Extension capacity in sustainable agriculture” initiative has three components:

  1. To conduct professional development trainings focusing on the needs of Extension professionals in the state.
  2. To allow county and state faculty to develop their own training objectives and propose venues that will provide the training they need.
  3. To advertise training opportunities available within the Southern SARE region and nationally that may be of interest to Florida faculty.

Our educational approach for our “entrepreneurial innovation in sustainable agriculture” initiative has one component:

  1. To offer an in-service training about successful grant writing to enhance Extension programming.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Sustainable Solutions for Florida Agricultural Production

Agronomic and horticultural production systems increasingly face emerging pest threats, competition with other uses for scarce resources, and increasing international competition in traditionally high-value crops. The rapidity with which new challenges emerge requires that service providers be knowledgeable not only of technologies and strategies that are fully tested and “ready for use,” but also of the most promising solutions under development. Equally important, we need to shorten the distance between research and application, an imperative long recognized by SARE.


Future of Sustainable Agriculture in Florida Webinar Series:

The target audience for this webinar series consists of county Extension faculty and other local service providers. The purpose is to expose participants to research conducted in Florida focusing on new projects and technologies supporting sustainable agriculture. By exploring emerging research from a wide variety of disciplines related to sustainable agriculture, participants may collaborate and provide relevant and timely sustainable agricultural programming to their clients. This training is offered as a webinar series to increase participation. In 2022-23, the webinar series will focus on the SSARE funded project, Bridging the Food Supply and Sustainable Agriculture Systems with the Nonprofit Sector. The webinar will highlight a new web-based directory of food and agriculture nonprofits. After completing this training, participants will be able to identify potential collaborations between Cooperative Extension and nonprofit organizations to increase the sustainability of Florida agricultural production systems.


Improving Research Outcomes through Stakeholder Feedback:

The target audience for this training consists of state and county faculty with Extension and research appointments and staff working with these faculty members. The pace of change in food and agriculture has increased greatly due to increased international trade, expanding regulatory requirements, and a diverse consumer population with distinctive and in many cases non-traditional preferences regarding food products and tangible and non-tangible attributes. These changes make it more important than ever to ensure that agricultural research can respond quickly to producer needs. We have developed techniques for incorporating grower and technical advisor (especially Extension) input into the design and implementation of agricultural research. The approach improves the quality of research because the key concerns of end-users of the research are involved in directing the research away from solutions that will not be acceptable to farmers, will direct research toward the most critical constraints and needs of producers, and will fully incorporate the expertise and experience of growers and their advisors to develop treatments and identify the kind of data needed by growers for their decision-making purposes. We have used these techniques in three research projects at the University of Florida with outstanding results that have contributed some of the most innovative treatments in research and helped us avoid commitment of time and effort to approaches that will ultimately fail the test of adoption. The objective of this IST is to provide participants with a systematic, tested approach to incorporating grower input into the research process. Training objectives:

  1. Develop a protocol for stakeholder driven adaptive research which includes facilitating an advisory panel, conducting research assessments, and farmer-designed on-farm trials.
  2. Complete the IRB protocol that will ensure your study meets federal requirements for human subjects research.
  3. Develop the appropriate data collection instruments and procedures for the study.
  4. Conduct the procedures involved.
  5. Analyze the results of the assessment.


Southern Region Cover Crops Council

We are a member of Strategy Team 4.  The objective of Strategy Team 4 is to foster basic, applied and participatory cover crop research in the Southern Region, and establish a multi-state research project.


Adapting and Expanding High Tunnel Organic Vegetable Production for the Southeast

The long-term goal of this OREI-NIFA funded project is to develop sustainable high tunnel systems to promote the growth and expansion of organic vegetable production in the Southeast. The project is a collaborative effort of the University and Florida, Florida A&M University, USDA-ARS, University of Georgia, Georgia Organics, and Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. (FOG). This integrated project will systematically address the major challenges and key issues with organic high tunnel production and management identified through an initial planning project. By building a strong partnership with organic producers and other stakeholders, this project will target long-term environmental and economic sustainability. The outreach component is focused on the following objectives: (1) An expanded network of farmers, farmer organizations and stakeholders that can share and access information about high tunnel organic vegetable production; (2) continuing farmer and stakeholder participation in research and extension about high tunnel organic vegetable production; (3) increased understanding of farmer and stakeholder decision making; and (4) adoption of the management options generated by this research. Our role on the project includes coordinating field research assessments with service providers and growers to evaluate the potential usefulness of our research and possible barriers to adoption.  We are also responsible for coordinating the advisory council activities, hosting field days, conducting interviews with the farmers engaging in our on-farm research, presenting at conferences, and developing a virtual research assessment.


Graduate Student Grant Writing Workshop


This hands-on workshop was open to any graduate student in the Southern region interested in improving their grant proposal writing skills. Dr. Mickie Swisher discussed the keys to writing a successful grant proposal. Students had the opportunity to work on their own proposals at the workshop, as well. Students from any department were encouraged to attend.  At the end of the training, the participants were able to: (1) Explain why proposals are rejected; (2) Identify the key elements of a call for proposal; (3) Craft their own proposal.


Enhancing the Sustainability of US Cropping Systems through Cover Crops and an Innovative Information and Technology Network

Transformative changes are needed to address agriculture's grand challenge of increasing food
production while maintaining environmental integrity. Changes must mitigate: agricultures high energy demand; impending water scarcity and herbicide-resistant weeds; consequences of climate change (more frequent flooding, droughts, and extreme heat); and decline in soil health, critical for improving soil and water quality. This proposal will address these unprecedented threats by providing the infrastructure necessary to support and accelerate cover crop (CC) use nationwide, thereby meeting NIFA program goals of 1) increasing total factor productivity, 2) improving water and nitrogen use efficiency, and 3) reducing losses due to biotic and abiotic stresses. An integrated transdisciplinary approach of research (54%), extension (30%), and education (16%) components will address our objectives. A nationwide team of dedicated research, extension and NGO personnel from 28 institutions will establish on-station and on-farm research networks, novel teaching curriculum, and extensive social-science based outreach. Our overall goal is to increase crop productivity, conserve natural resources, and reduce our agro-ecological footprint through increased and improved use of CCs. Our role on the project includes coordinating field research assessments with service providers and growers to evaluate the potential usefulness of the research and possible barriers to adoption.  We are also responsible for coordinating the Farmer Think Tank Panel activities and presenting at conferences.


Evaluating the Dual-Purpose of Chickpea: A Cash and Cover Crop for Agricultural Production Systems in the Southeast

This Southern SARE sponsored Research and Education proposal was funded in 2021. The aim of this project is to evaluate chickpea to improve our knowledge on this multi-purpose crop and learn whether it can be grown for its full growth potential in the Southern Coastal Plain region as an off-season (winter) dual-purpose crop (cash and cover) in corn production systems. Our evaluation will be based on yield and economic returns, potential N-credits, and impact on major insect pests of the major summer cash crop (corn). We will identify the best maturity chickpea varieties for production (high yielding and nutrient rich) to enhance diversity, and environmental and economical sustainability. The specific objectives are (1) evaluate yield, nutritional quality and N-fixation of chickpeas integrated into corn cropping systems, (2) assess N-fixation by chickpea and N credit to the subsequent cash crop, by combining 15N tracing at one research site (PSREU) on the three most promising varieties with more traditional N cycling measurements at both research sites and on growers’ fields, (3) measure insect and disease pressure in the rotational crops, (4) evaluate and compare the economic feasibility of production for evaluated chickpea varieties, and (5) incorporate stakeholder’ recommendations in the evaluation of project activities, conduct outreach and training, and disseminate findings on the potential dual-purpose of chickpea in agricultural production systems.

Outcomes and impacts:

Future of Sustainable Agriculture in Florida Webinar Series

We began developing the series in 2022.  Topics will include: cover crops, high tunnels, low tunnels, soil health, plant breeding/seed saving/regional seed production, pests and diseases, alternative crops.  We will assess the participants’ change of knowledge with pre and post test evaluations.


Improving Research Outcomes through Stakeholder Feedback

We presented our first virtual research assessment training at the 2021 Northeast Cover Crops Council Conference.  This served as a pilot virtual training for our upcoming Florida SARE trainings scheduled for 2023-24.


Southern Region Cover Crops Council

In collaboration with Strategy Team 4 we secured a SAS CAP grant that supports cover crops research in Florida. See “Enhancing the Sustainability of US Cropping Systems through Cover Crops and an Innovative Information and Technology Network.”  We attended the Southern Cover Crops Conference in 2023.


Adapting and Expanding High Tunnel Organic Vegetable Production for the Southeast

In 2021, we recruited five additional advisory panel members and hosted our third meeting, we recruited nine participants and conducted our third research assessment at PSREU, we recruited eight participants and conducted a virtual research assessment on Zoom, and we started production on several virtual field days and project videos to highlight the activities and results of this project.  We also presented at the 2021 ASHS conference (virtual), 2021 FSHS annual meeting (in-person), and the III International Organic Fruit Symposium and I International Organic Vegetable Symposium (virtual). In 2022, we produced 5 short videos highlighting the project.  Four additional videos and virtual field days highlighting some of the treatments grown at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, FL are currently in production. We also hosted our final advisory panel meeting, our last virtual research assessment, and completed on-farm trials at five farms in Florida. In 2023, we will publish and disseminate our videos through our website, Youtube channel, and Florida SARE listserv. 


Graduate Student Grant Writing Workshop

Twenty-five students registered for the grant writing workshop and ten students attend the end of course Q & A session.


Enhancing the Sustainability of US Cropping Systems through Cover Crops and an Innovative Information and Technology Network

In January and August 2021 , we hosted our first two Farmer Think Tank meetings with five farmers representing five states. We hosted our third, fourth, and fifth Think Tank meetings with eight farmers representing eight states in 2022-23. We will host our final Think Tank meeting with the eight farmers in 2023. In March 2021, we presented our first research assessment training at the Northeast Cover Crops Council Conference and hosted our first research assessment at WFREC on the cover crops grown in common experiment 1. In May 2022, we hosted our final research assessment at the PSREU on the corn crop grown in common experiment 2. In November 2022, we presented findings from our first four Farmer Think Tank meetings at the 2022 Tri-Societies Conference in Baltimore, MD.


Evaluating the Dual-Purpose of Chickpea: A Cash and Cover Crop for Agricultural Production Systems in the Southeast

Our activities began in 2021.  We recruited an advisory council and hosted our first meeting in 2022.  We will host our second meeting in 2023.

Advancing Extension Capacity in Sustainable Agriculture

This initiative provides individualized training in specialized topics in sustainable agriculture. County and state faculty can participate in training relevant to their state and county programs that may not be a focus or an emphasis in the other Florida SARE initiatives. We allow county and state faculty to develop their own training objectives and propose venues that will provide the training they need. We also advertise training opportunities that may be of interest to Florida faculty.


Advanced Individualized Training:

The target audience consists of county Extension faculty who are members of a Florida Extension Professional Association. Scholarships are available to support travel to a professional development program in which the faculty person will receive training in topics relevant to sustainable agriculture. Program objectives:

  1. Increase participation in trainings related to sustainable agriculture that are associated with the SSARE Program.
  2. Increase participation in relevant national and regional trainings offered by other programs and organizations.
  3. Enhance the ability of the participant to develop and deliver local extension programming relevant to the goals of the Florida SARE program.
  4. Expand the current Extension responsibilities of the participant to include programming related to sustainable agriculture and food systems.


Grant Proposal Mentoring

We reach out to faculty members in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, especially those with significant Extension responsibilities, to offer assistance in pre-proposal research and proposal development on topics related to sustainable agriculture.  These are one-on-one or small group mentoring sessions.

Outcomes and impacts:

Advanced Individualized Training

We sponsor travel scholarships for Extension professionals and/or mentor farmers to attend sustainable agriculture trainings.  Upon completion of the training, scholarship recipients are required to submit a report about the conference, what they learned, and how they are using or plan to use what they learned in their work.


Grant Proposal Mentoring

We are mentoring farmers, faculty, and non-profits to develop competitive research proposals.  Proposals will be submitted to various USDA NIFA funded programs in 2023/24.

Entrepreneurial Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture

This initiative focuses on advancing Extension that provides support for nontraditional agricultural businesses and promotes sustainable food systems to address social and economic community issues. Healthy growing agricultural and natural resource-based businesses can contribute to local development and economic vitality if barriers to the establishment and growth of businesses are addressed. We will facilitate workshops, strategic planning, and joint programmatic development for Extension and community partners.


Successful Grant Writing for Extension Programming:

The target audience for this training consists of county Extension faculty, service providers, community-based organizations, and producer organizations.  The funding opportunities for community-based and producer organizations provide important resources to foster community and farm development. Successful proposal development is a learned skill. While the specific requirements for each proposal will vary depending on the goals of the donor, objectives, and proposal requirements, there are commonalities to most proposals. The objective of this program is to provide participants with an understanding of key factors that donors commonly use to evaluate proposals and how to respond to these factors.  Training objectives:

  1. Write a problem statement that is responsive to the priorities of the donor.
  2. Develop goals, objectives, and outcomes to address the problem statement.
  3. Develop and describe objective-based activities.
  4. Construct an appropriate evaluation strategy.
  5. Develop an objective-based budget.


Specialty Pumpkin: Laying the Groundwork for an Emerging Crop and Lucrative Products

This Southern SARE sponsored Research and Education proposal was funded in 2021. The purpose of this project is to identify and address grower, industry, and consumer needs and constraints for an emerging crop (specialty pumpkin) through Social Science, Food Science, and Cropping Systems research. In addition to the other PIs work, we will interview farmers, operators at sales points and consumers to gain multiple perspectives about potential opportunities and bottlenecks to acceptance of specialty pumpkin products. Producers will include large and small farms, organic and conventional, and those with and without experience in developing new enterprises.  We will conduct grower field assessments of on-station and on-farm trials and produce actionable recommendations to guide research over the course of this project. We will convene an industry advisory panel including farmers, actors in the market chain, and other industry stakeholders such as seed providers who will assume major responsibilities for annual review of project progress and develop strategic recommendations for outreach in this project and follow-on research programs.

Outcomes and impacts:

Successful Grant Writing for Extension Programming

We developed and are launching a virtual training series focused on SSARE and other USDA-NIFA grant funding in 2023.  We will assess the participants’ change of knowledge with pre and post test evaluations.


Specialty Pumpkin: Laying the Groundwork for an Emerging Crop and Lucrative Products

Our activities began in 2021.  We recruited an advisory council and hosted our first meeting in 2022.  We hosted our first research assessment in 2023.  We will host two additional advisory council meetings in 2023/24.  We will host another research assessment in Puerto Rico in 2023/24.  We completed 10 interviews with farmers in 2023 and will complete an additional 20 before 2024.  Using results from the farmer interviews, we will develop an online questionnaire to distribute to farmers in the Southeast.  We will also complete interviews with grocery store/produce managers to learn more about the marketability of Southeast grown calabaza.

Educational & Outreach Activities

13 Consultations
9 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Study circle/focus groups
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

75 Extension
45 Researchers
7 Nonprofit
3 Agency
13 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
99 Farmers/ranchers
24 Others

Learning Outcomes

88 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
13 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

3 New working collaborations
6 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

We will host our 2022 Florida SARE Advisory Council meeting in 2023. Training activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions and low participation at in-person events.  Virtual trainings were developed where possible and in-person events will resume in 2023/24.

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

We distribute SARE educational materials at all of our SARE trainings and other relevant programs in Florida. SARE materials are distributed to the public by state and county faculty that participate in our programs. We also distribute SARE books and educational materials to our listserv, advisory council, and scholarship recipients.

99 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
54 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
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.