Dr. Kelly Morgan
Professor, Center Director - SWFREC
Vision for the Future of SWFREC
The University of Florida/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) in Immokalee serves a diverse set of needs for the area agricultural industry, students and, community. The SWFREC conducts high-priority research and extension functions to generate new technologies and improved practices used by growers of the state to solve problems related to agricultural production and protection of natural resources. The primary goal of SWFREC is to facilitate improvements in area and statewide water and environmental quality.
The past four years have seen an increase in offices and laboratories by 5,000 square feet (one-half the area of the original 1989 building), the building of eight new greenhouses, and the addition of seven faculty. General goals of SWFREC include: alternative citrus and vegetable crop production practices, insect and mite management, plant disease diagnostics and control, and improved irrigation and nutrient management. The faculty has contributed to improved citrus production by trees affected by Huanglongbing (HLB), but has not reduced efforts to address problems facing vegetable producers. Specific technologies researched by SWFREC include: precision agriculture technology, computer-aided irrigation scheduling, growth model based nutrient management, organic options, soil microbiology, plant physiology, water conservation, and principles of economics and labor supervisory techniques.
During the next few years, the center farm field and grove, used to conduct much-needed research and graduate student projects, will be a priority to keep pace with the agriculture industry. Hurricane Irma dramatically pointed out the need for improved drainage on our experimental fields and grove. The drainage system and reservoir had not been properly maintained for many years. With the help of local growers, we have made improvements that will reduce the impact of all but the most devastating storms. Like the drainage system, the irrigation system on our farms has not been upgraded to current production standards. Money has been secured to automate our irrigation systems. Additional funds are being sought from the legislature and donations from suppliers that will further improve irrigation in keeping with the practices employed by many of our clientele. These renovations would include improved irrigation water delivery and sensor-based automation to facilitate better research and demonstration of critical agricultural inputs. These improvements will allow researchers to implement fertilizer application through the irrigation system that is more efficient than ground application and becoming widely used by tree and row crop farmers. The Return on Investment for these improvements is an increase in our ability to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of the latest technology. These long-term productivity improvements will help increase agricultural production and provide an economic boost without increased impact on water quality and the environment.
Improvements in our farm equipment to improve our production practices are critical. We are in the process of purchasing a new 190-horsepower tractor to replace some of our low-powered and aging tractors. Additional newer equipment will be purchased in future years to greatly improve our ability to produce plots in keeping with our clientele. Students experience hands-on research, many with on-farm projects and cooperation with local growers. These programs are enhanced greatly by post-docs and visiting scholars. More than 20 M.S. and Ph.D. graduate students will utilize the experimental fields and local farms to conduct thesis and dissertation research that will benefit the growers and the environment. With the help of our growers, we are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to build a student residence dorm to house these students at SWFREC, further enhancing our ability to attract the best students to conduct much needed high-impact research.