New UF Center Benefits Ag Industry

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University of Florida (UF) researchers have come together to create a new center for research to help better benefit those in the agriculture industry.

Diane Rowland, director for the Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture (CSRA), said the center was created to help researchers communicate and conduct research more effectively and to combat stress in agriculture.

“[Stress in agriculture] includes what science calls ‘abiotic stress,’ which is effects in the environment like high temperature or drought, and ‘biotic stress’ that is linked to biological organisms like diseases or insect pests,” Rowland said. “These stresses have far-reaching effects along many scales, from influencing plant function, decreasing yield, causing toxins in food and degrading land so that it is not productive.”

Since certain areas of importance in agriculture, such as weather, soil and breeding, are becoming more complex, Rowland said it is important for researchers to work together.

At the center, researchers will work in transdisciplinary teams rather than interdisciplinary teams. This means the researchers will decide together how to approach problems, discuss findings and track progress.

“This center is a way to bring disciplines together, where we’re working one-on-one, learning each other’s disciplinary language, learning how we approach problems, and integrating that approach to tackle stress in agriculture,” Rowland said.

A team of 15 faculty members from UF has been working on the goals, mission and overall foundation of the center for nearly a year and a half. The final approval for the center was received in October 2017.

One goal of the center is to work closely with students studying in agriculture-related graduate programs to help them prepare for the industry. The center will offer the UF Skills Training for Agriculture Industry Readiness (STAIR) program. Rowland said it allows students to meet with companies in the agriculture industry for a week-long program to teach them skills necessary for a successful career.

While CSRA does not currently have specific community-outreach events planned, Rowland said the center plans to host public events, such as field days.

The affiliated faculty under CSRA have submitted four federal projects recently, utilizing this transdisciplinary approach. This has allowed for projects with integrated research across wide scales and issues within agriculture. Rowland said the CSRA views this approach as a way to successfully solve the increasing complexity of problems facing food systems.

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