Sunday, October 21, 2018
Opinion

Guest column: How people buy groceries is latest lesson for UF ag students in Plant City

It used to be that the building on North Park Road in Plant City was where you bought your peppers, strawberries and tomatoes.

Now itís where your future food producers learn how to take the technology that maps your route to the market and to apply it to guiding a tractor. Itís where they learn to remove obstacles in the journey from field to checkout line. And itís where they learn to tell the story behind what you eat.

The former supermarket has been transformed into a center of the science of how all that food got there. Itís the University of Floridaís Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Plant City campus. Now its customers are the people who produce food so you can consume it.

Those customers asked for instruction in how you make choices in the grocery store. Starting in January, weíll provide it with the first classes in the science of how you spend your money. The UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department is launching a degree program in Plant City.

The program is getting started with donations of $75,000 each from the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and the Florida Strawberry Festival. It also relies on Hillsborough Community College sharing space on its campus. And on Farm Credit of Central Florida and Sunshine Bank providing scholarships to students. We donít do this on our own.

Visiting the campus in November reminded me of why itís so important that UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has satellite campuses. Many of our Plant City students already have families and careers. That makes it challenging to get to Gainesville.

But they can derive such huge benefit if we can bring Gainesville to them. Take geomatics, a discipline that involves translating huge amounts of data into pictures and maps. Associate professor Amr Abd-Elraham started with no students a decade ago and now has 20 in Plant City.

More than 50 percent of UF/IFAS geomatics graduates own their own companies, and 65 percent manage or supervise a department in surveying and mapping, either in the private or public sector.

This is particularly important in Hillsborough County, one of the leading locations in Florida where the city bumps up against the farm. Agriculture and natural resources accounts for 180,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $12 billion in Hillsborough County.

To keep that economic engine running, we need people trained in, well, economics. We need others trained in geomatics, leadership and communications. A Plant City campus allows you to benefit from home-grown leaders just as our research center in Wimauma helps keep Florida-grown strawberries on your local grocery store shelves.

If that teaching and research isnít there for agriculture, then Hillsborough County land will more and more often sprout with what we call "the last crop" ó more houses.

Thereís a dynamic young staff at the center. I met Luis PeŮa-Levano, the new economics lecturer, who invited me to travel with him to his native Peru. I teased Debra Barry, who trains future teachers of agriculture, that there needs to be more UF/IFAS signs to go with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences branding at the campus. The collegeís dean, Elaine Turner, was there, too, though, and took Debraís side.

I left Plant City with confidence in farmingís future in Hillsborough County. Iím also proud of how the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has taken back a small piece of retail real estate for agricultural science.

With apologies to any shoppers who once got their groceries where our campus is now, there are plenty of places to buy food. There arenít enough places dedicated to producing future food producers.

With the help of those future economists, teachers, surveyors, and ag association leaders who come out of Plant City programs, Hillsborough Countyís farmers can continue to grow fruits and vegetables and turn less often to the last crop.

Jack Payne is the University of Floridaís senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Comments
Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/19/18

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/19/18