Biodiversity in Agriculture
Biodiversity is an essential feature of healthy ecosystems. Biodiversity in agriculture promotes ecosystem services such as soil quality, weed suppression, and pollination. However, some composition of biodiversity may be detrimental to production and stability for target crop species in agricultural systems. We are working to identify all of the plant species at the Tropical Research and Education Center to understand the composition of the agroecosystem at the research station. We also conduct regular plant diversity surveys to monitor the impacts of biodiversity on the diverse selection of cropping systems at the research station.
Sustainability in agriculture requires an understanding of the regional connectedness of farms and their surrounding areas. Whether a farm is surrounded by natural or urban area, the surrounding neighborhood uniquely effects the external pressures affecting farm dynamics and management. We are developing an agroecosystems experiment at TREC to understand the impact of surrounding areas on cropping systems. We are using cover crops to represent a simplified cropping system to evaluate crop physiology, weed suppression and soil amendment. The interaction among characteristics of the surrounding area, such as plant diversity, with the cropping system will begin to uncover important agroecosystem-level drivers and dynamics.
Sustainable Cropping Systems
Aflatoxins are produced by molds that contaminate many staple crops, such as peanut. Aflatoxin contamination is a common source of crop loss in peanut production, storage, and processing due to the public health risks of aflatoxin ingestion. With collaborators across the University of Florida and Georgia State University, I am working to understand the vulnerabilities to aflatoxin contamination in peanut across the food system. Target areas of the project include adaptive water management on peanut farms and advanced imaging technologies to identify aflatoxin contamination in harvested and stored peanuts.
Industrial hemp has been identified as a potentially valuable and impactful alternative crop for Florida. To support the future viability and sustainability of a hemp industry, preliminary assessment of the crop and cropping systems must be established prior to commercialization. With a statewide research team across the University of Florida, we have proposed the UF Industrial Hemp Pilot Project to identify hemp germplasm appropriate for Florida’s diverse environmental and agronomic conditions, to develop cropping systems that serve a diverse range of hemp industries, and to assess and mitigate hemp invasion risk.
What is Agroecology?
Agroecology is a relatively new discipline that is still working out the details of its transdisciplinary identity and broad societal relevance. The fundamental goals of agroecology are to sustain production, conserve natural resources, and maintain social equity. To meet these goals, practitioners of agroecology seek to promote biodiversity and resilience in agricultural systems while maintaining viable production and fair livelihoods. Agroecologists perceive their goals and solutions through the lens of systems thinking and analysis. Many UF faculty and Florida residents engage in agroecology-related issues and activities regularly, but remain unaware or unclear of the discipline. The “What is Agroecology?” Extension program is designed to break this conceptual barrier and provide a suite of resources to the general public that improve the appreciation of the broad relevance of the discipline.
The Agroecosystem Concept
Agroecosystems are described by the interacting features of environmental and ecological characteristics of a farm and the surrounding area. Agroecosystems are complex and challenging to manage. The agroecology framework that can help improve the sustainable management of agriculture and natural resources through the agroecosystem concept. “The Agroecosystem Concept” Extension program is a set of trainings aimed at county agriculture and natural resources agents and their stakeholders to increase the visibility of and engagement with agroecosystems. Participants should aspire to develop management strategies that improve environmental and economic outcomes of cropping systems from an understanding of the environmental and ecological characteristics of an agroecosystem.
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