Veteran UF/IFAS Economist Named Interim Director of UF/IFAS Tropical REC
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Edward “Gilly” Evans, a longtime agricultural economist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Tropical Research and Education Center, has been named interim director of the center as the unit is hiring seven new faculty members.
The new scientists include an agro-ecologist (a combination of agronomist and ecologist) who will study, among other things, how production systems can remain profitable while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. Other TREC hires include one of two hydrologists, two crop breeders, and a plant stress physiologist. A biogeochemist and a hydrologist will be hired in the near future.
Evans credits recently retired TREC director Chris Waddill for laying the groundwork for the seven new faculty positions. Once the new faculty are on-board, Evans will be supervising 100 full-time center employees, which will include 17 faculty members.
“It’s an exciting time for us because this will mark the beginning of a new chapter in TREC’s history that will bring us to a new level of excellence,” said Evans, a professor in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. “More and more, growers are looking to us to help with the many challenges they face, including increased foreign competition, a barrage of pests and diseases and climate change sea-level rises that threaten the quality and quantity of water resources in Florida. My emphasis over the coming year will be on completing the new hires and getting our scientists the help and tools they need to be more effective in doing their jobs.”
Evans indicated that some of the facilities at TREC are badly outdated and need upgrades, a situation that is now being addressed by UF/IFAS administrators who recently paid a site visit to TREC as part of a review of all UF/IFAS RECs that occurs every three years. “We are extremely happy with the support we are receiving from the UF/IFAS leadership,” said Evans.
This is not Evans’ first foray into university administration. He also works as associate director of UF/IFAS Global, the arm of the institute that implements international programs. Earlier, he was the assistant director of the UF Center for Tropical Agriculture and the assistant executive director of the International Agriculture Trade and Policy Center in the food and resource economics department.
Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, cited Evans’ prior leadership and his outstanding research record as two key reasons for naming him as the interim leader of TREC.
“Dr. Evans has shown top-notch leadership acumen at UF/IFAS Global,” Payne said. “Additionally, his research into the economics of tropical fruits has proven valuable to South Florida growers as they grapple with global competition and combat invasive species.”
Evans also headed a delegation of 10 UF professors who visited the Bahamas in 2014 at the request of the Bahamian prime minister to conduct a reconnaissance assessment of the marketing and agronomic conditions in the Bahamas, and in particular, North Andros Island.
TREC deals with multiple challenges: extreme weather; plant viruses, including tomato chlorotic wilt virus and a deadly fungus causing the laurel wilt, which can kill avocado trees; and saltwater intrusion in soils and freshwater that affect the types of crop grown and their productivity.
Another major issue is foreign market competition against the fruits and vegetables produced by South Florida growers. “That’s where the breeders will play a major role,” Evans said. “Breeders will provide the next generation of crops that will satisfy consumers’ demand for specific attributes, utilize less inputs and are are resistant to heat and plant diseases.”
In addition to hiring new faculty and giving them better labs, Evans wants all new faculty to work with a mentoring committee to make sure they’re meeting their professional goals. A mentoring system will benefit both the new faculty and the TREC clientele.
As a bit of background, Evans has worked for UF/IFAS for 21 years, and has been a faculty member at TREC since 2004. Before coming to Florida, Evans worked as a diplomat at the Caribbean Community Secretariat, Georgetown Guyana, and at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, Trinidad, West Indies. He holds a doctorate from UF/IFAS, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of the West Indies.
Evans plans to continue Waddill’s commitment to making research findings accessible to growers through Extension, stating that, like Waddill, he is guided by the principle that: “Research is only useful if it is being accessed and used to inform, educate, and influence.”
Evans is ready for his new role and jumping right into the driver’s seat. “I like a challenge,” he said. “We really feel invigorated by the support we’re getting from Gainesville.”