Dr. David L. Wright
As an extension specialist, all of my research and extension efforts have involved team efforts in finding solutions to challenges and critical needs of the farming community and delivering results in a user friendly manner to the consumer. I have served as leader or co-leader of statewide extension programming for agronomic crops for the past 20+ years with the objective of delivering educational programs to county extension faculty. My current leadership duties are “To enhance and maintain agriculture and food systems” and serve as a team member of the Focus area “Agricultural profitability and the sustainable use of environmental resources”. This focus area creates an environment for statewide programming with a team of specialists and county faculty which develops priorities and teams for specific production challenges for agronomic crops. My specific program focuses on development and implementation of an extension agronomy program for row crops and diversified conservation farming systems. Extension education materials are developed in conjunction with other specialists for county extension faculty and their clientele including on-line publications, providing in-service training, and other educational material and support. The success of the program is reported by
1) attainment of extramural funding,
2) publication of articles on line or through popular press aimed at end-users,
3) development of EDIS (Electronic Data Information Source) publications,
4) meetings, field days, and in-service training events to support county extension faculty so that they can better deliver educational programs to their clientele and help in one on one decisions making
5) training students and young scientists and
6) making an impact in the farming community through increased profitability and environmental stewardship. I am also a founding member (established in 2008) of the IFAS Focus Team “Climate Change and Variability: Adaption and Mitigation” G2-F5 of which our sod based rotation is a major factor in mitigating climate change impacts.
Currently, four main areas of extension programming are defined below, and their description, objectives, education activities and impacts are provided for the last 10 years.
Program Area 1
Livestock Integration into a Bahiagrass/Peanut/Cotton Rotation Using Conservation Tillage
Row crop farmers have been marginally profitable for a number of years due to commodity prices, low average yields and lack of viable rotation crops. Growers generally use two crops such as cotton with peanut or corn with peanut as their standard production system. Fields often have the same crop every other year or 2 years in a row in some cases resulting in pest build up, high pesticide use, and declining yields. Likewise, along with little diversification, farms in Florida are very dependent on weather over a four month (May-September) period for the success of the 140,000 acres of peanut, 110,000 acres of cotton, as well as for the corn and soybean crops. Many farms were highly diversified as late as the 1960’s with both livestock and row crops. However, high prices for soybeans in the 1970’s led growers to take land out of pastures and cattle were sold resulting in the 2 crop system of corn/soybean in Florida and much of the U.S. Florida row crop acreage has transitioned from corn/soybean to cotton/peanut in recent years with much of the research and extension activities looking at management of these individual crops instead of total farm viability. Little integrated conservation farming systems research has been done or promoted because of the long term nature of the studies and all of the variables involved in a farming system. These projects are long term, broad based, and best accomplished with a team of scientists and extension specialists to provide integrated information. Therefore, growers have little information on the economics of a total farm system and how different crops and livestock can impact total farm management, economics and risk management. Growers have access to single enterprise budgets and often know what each crop costs to produce and how to manage them. This system of integrating livestock and row crops with perennial grasses has focused on conservation management and sustainable farming systems practices. The target audience is county extension faculty and their row crop clientele.
- to promote and educate county extension faculty and their clientele on diversified conservation farming systems for agronomic crop production that includes perennial grass/livestock rotations with row crops to enhance the environment, decrease pesticide use, increase yield, reduce economic risks, while enhancing farm profits.
- to encourage new adoption of sod based conservation farming systems in each of the counties by local grower through county educational efforts, field day, short courses, EDIS publications, etc. so that growers can see the benefits of the system first hand.
- to provide education through dedicated websites, demonstrations, and other information on the value of the system for risk management, environmental enhancement and to encourage partnerships with agri-business, NRCS, water management districts, conservation groups, etc., for promotion and adoption of the conservation farming system.
- County extension faculty and their clientele have increased their knowledge of the diversified sod based conservation farming systems project through yearly county meetings, short courses, in-service training, field days, on farm demonstrations, etc. Surveys conducted at these educational events indicate that 100% of the county faculty involved learned something new and helpful in each event and gained knowledge in management and production techniques and web based technology to better communicate information to their clientele.
- County faculty have established the sod based conservation farming system on farms in 85% of the counties that have large acreage of row crops by growers convinced of its value or those wanting to try it based on what they have heard. At every county meeting in recent years, we find new growers who indicate that they have tried they system on some part or their farm and it is improving their profitability by increasing yields and that they are slowly adapting this diversified farming system to their operation.
- Of the farms in counties that have established sod based conservation farming systems 100% have been able to show enhanced soil and water quality by reducing soil erosion and water runoff and through increased soil organic matter when crops follow bahiagrass.
- We have demonstrated significantly lower nematode levels and had less peanut diseases resulting in reducing pesticide use when peanuts follow bahiagrass as compared to the conventional rotation of cotton followed by peanut. Many growers are now using this rotation and have reduced their total pesticide use by 50% and many fields that had severe nematode infestations can now grow crops without nematicides and fungicide application numbers have been reduced.
- Counties that have farmers to try the sod based system on their farms have shown increased yields of cotton and peanut. Peanut yields have been 50% higher than in conventional row crop rotations and one of our university cooperators showed a 50% increase in cotton yields when planted after perennial grass. Overall, farmers who have adopted the system have reported 20-50% yield increases.
- Growers have found that the system reduces capital risks due to less acreage in “cash” crops and improves the total farm income more than 2 fold by including livestock and having less input costs on the crops.
- We have developed a website for the interactive business model and growers are using it to input their own numbers from their operations http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/sodrotation.htm to look at the impact of this sod based rotation on their own farms.
- Through farmer buy in and implementation, county extension faculty and their clientele have both gained knowledge of the sod based system locally. The project has piqued the interest of the scientific community, water quality regulators, and conservation groups. This is shown by the number of partnerships that have developed over the last 7 years in educational activities and research efforts with USDA/ARS from the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory and the National Peanut Laboratory, NESPAL, UGA, Auburn University, Virginia Tech, The Nature Conservancy, The Rodale Institute, Water Management Districts and faculty from several departments including plant pathologists, nematologists, soil scientists, entomologists, agricultural engineers, animal scientist, economists, plant breeders, etc.
- We established a farm scale model (160 acre) of the sod based rotation at the NFREC in Marianna and have a cow/calf operation to utilize the perennial forage and the winter annuals grown after peanut and cotton. This site showcases the system and how it can be implemented successfully on a farm scale. County extension faculty have used this facility as part of their in-service training at the beef cattle short course and other events. Due to the farm scale nature of the project, several researchers have cooperated extensively to study cattle impacts on nitrogen and carbon cycling, water quality, soil and plant responses, GIS/GPS research using precision ag technology, and cattle impacts on soil properties, winter grazing and the following peanut and cotton crops.
- We have used the sod based systems established in GA, FL, and AL to gain new knowledge as well as to train and educate graduate students, serve as a resource for training county extension faculty and their clientele, consultants and demonstrate the concept to the agri-business community.
- The Risk Management Agency has taken an interested in the system to reduce claims to crop insurance since it improves soil quality and reduces the number of acres in “cash” crops and therefore reduces risks to the farm.
- This diversified conservation farming system has given county extension faculty a farm system to promote to growers in their counties and more than 60% of the counties have worked with growers who have struggled with conventional rotations to get them started with the sod based rotation.
- This diversified conservation farming system has been highlighted many times in the farm press and other outlets, and has led to training many different groups including State Agronomists for the National Resource Conservation Service, Florida Springs Initiative Working Group, The Nature Conservancy, etc., who have an interest in conservation, the environment and the well being of the farming community.
- The Nature Conservancy picked up the sodbased farming system as one of their prime initiatives in the fall of 2007 after being exposed to the system at the Southern Conservation Agricultural Systems Conference in June of 2007 and then a special short course and field tour was presented to their representatives and NRCS personnel in October of 2007. The Nature Conservancy co-sponsored a full day program at our location for growers to see the system and hear advantages.
- EQIP funding was approved for Florida in 2014. This has been a highly visible and conservation minded farming system that is beginning to impact the SE and U.S. agricultural community.
Program Area 2
Managing Hardlock/Boll Rot of Cotton (10% FTE)
There are approximately 14 million acres of cotton grown in the Cotton Belt of the U.S. Hardlock/boll rot has been a disease that has plagued the humid region of the Cotton Belt and world forever with no apparent management to solve the problem. With mechanical picking of cotton, all of the hardlocked cotton is lost during the picking operation since it is not fluffed out and is like an orange slice and when hit by the machine, falls to the ground. Even with all of the new advances in pickers and genetic technology in the cotton plant itself, an average of 200-400 lbs/A of cotton is lost every year due to hardlock. In 2002 about 600-700 lbs/A was lost. Our state average yield is around 550-700 lbs/A and a yield of 800-900 is often required to break even. Along with the boll weevil, hardlock is blamed for taking cotton out of the region several times when yields would be dramatically reduced without knowing the cause of how to control it. Florida growers lose about 30% of their cotton due to hardlock/boll rot amounting to a loss of $15+ mil. in a normal year. With about 700 cotton growers in the state, the loss is about $21-22,000 for each grower and twice that much in a bad year as in 2002 ($30 million lost on 120,000 acres of cotton). For cotton to remain a viable crop in Florida and the SE with ever increasing input costs, hardlock/boll rot needs to be stopped.
- to determine the cause and control of hardlock disease
- to find management that will reduce yield loss due to hardlock/boll rot and allow growers to harvest the yield that is produced
- to educate, and provide information to county extension faculty and their clientele on solutions for control and put control methods into practice to allow growers to harvest the yield produced
- We found the fungus Fusarium verticillioides to be a primary cause of hardlock in cotton in Florida. This was the first report of this type of infection in cotton and has resulted in a flurry of research activity and verification trials in 5 SE states by county and state extension faculty. Since the fungus infects the flowers during bloom and then develops in the bolls, we were able to develop treatments that could be applied during the bloom stage for control of the disease.
- After training county extension faculty who had cotton in their counties on control strategies for hardlock, on farm trials were used to refine the management strategies for the disease. With infections occurring during bloom, fungicide/insecticide applications were made during this period and were shown to be effective in grower field demonstrations and research plots.
- A Section 18 was awarded in Florida in 2005 for the fungicide thiophanate-methyl against the disease so that growers would have a legal material for use against the disease. This is the first EPA approved strategy for controlling the disease. Auburn University scientists then confirmed our results and have also gotten a Section 18 approval for fungicide application in 2007. Bayer CropScience is expected to have a national label for one of their fungicides for cotton for 2008 against hardlock and several other states are being funded by Cotton Inc. for disease control research in 2014.
- Our graduate students and post docs found that flower thrips and other flower visiting insects can contribute to hardlock by carrying the fungus into the flower on the first day of bloom, and significant control was obtained with insecticide applications. County extension faculty found growers in their counties who were willing to test insect control strategies for controlling hardlock during the bloom period, thereby gaining knowledge on hardlock control.
- 100% of the county extension faculty in cotton growing counties gained hands on training and first hand knowledge with growers who have had a severe hardlock/boll rot problems when trials were established in their counties. Some of the growers reported double yields over their normal averages of the past 20 years, while many had yield increases of 200 lbs/A or more. Not only have the county faculty gained knowledge in how to control hardlock but have been instrumental in helping to develop control strategies.
- Cotton growers who had demonstration and research plots on their farms with fungicide/insecticide applications kept leaves on the cotton plants longer by controlling leaf diseases and resulted in as much as 150-200 lbs/A lint increase in years when hardlock was at a minimum. The practice of using fungicide and insecticides together every other week during the first 4-6 weeks of bloom has brought some growers back to cotton production. Growers who have used this management to control hardlock have led to rapid adoption of the technology by neighbors that had fields separated by a fence line when it would yield twice as much cotton. A feature story was run in “Cotton Farming Magazine” (May 2003, http://www.cottonfarming.com/home/main.ihtml) stating that this discovery may be close to the discovery of genetic technology use for cotton. This project has had high visibility in the farm community and across the cotton belt as noted from invited talks and papers in 16 above. Clearly, training of county extension faculty and their help in these findings on the control of hardlock/boll rot of cotton has helped add 200-300 lbs/A of cotton lint to growers harvestable yield resulting in a $25 mil. yearly increase in income to Florida cotton growers.
Program Area 3
Asian Soybean Rust Control (10% FTE)
Asian soybean rust is a disease that has had devastating impacts on the economics of production in major soybean producing countries like Brazil. The disease has been shown to reduce yields by 50% or more depending on when the infection occurs in the life cycle of the soybean plant. The disease was placed on the bio-terrorism list as a potential disease that could be intentionally brought into the U.S. and could cost soybean growers $3-4 billion in control strategies (fungicide applications). This disease is thought to have been brought to the U.S. from South America by Hurricane Ivan in the fall of 2004. The disease was found at the NFREC about 4 days after it was identified in Louisiana in 2004. Due to the warm, humid climate that Florida enjoys, the disease over wintered on kudzu throughout the state in 2004-05 resulting in the potential for a major disease outbreak, a reduction in soybean yield, and an increase in production costs in Florida, the SE, and the country. Since soybean prices have risen significantly in the past year, it is expected that Florida will more than quadruple soybean acreage in 2008 and may have serious challenges from the disease due to it over wintering in the soybean producing areas of the state on kudzu and perhaps other wild hosts.
- to determine management strategies for controlling Asian soybean rust
- to determine efficacy of fungicides and timing, rates of application, etc. for best control
- to serve as a resource for information, training, research facilities, and identification of Asian soybean rust and provide training opportunities for county extension faculty and their clientele, extension specialists, consultants and scouts in Florida and the U.S.
- A 3 day Asian soybean rust short course has been offered U.S. wide for extension professionals, consultants, and scouting services the second week of July in 2005, 2006, and 2007. This training included soybean rust identification on both soybean and the natural host kudzu. These short courses consisted of greenhouse, field, and laboratory training, training on microscopes to verify the disease, and control strategies when found.
- Special courses have been given to different groups on request. Several states have sent all of their county extension faculty and soybean extension specialists here for training sessions on identification and control strategies (Tennessee). A two day workshop in July of 2007 was presented for a group of extension professionals from Mexico and the training was done in Spanish with our Spanish speaking post doc leading the effort.
- Soybean sentinel plots were planted in 26 different counties in Florida in conjunction with county extension faculty in 2005-2007, who set up the locations and helped with weekly scouting as the need arose. With sentinel plots in counties, field days were held at some of these locations to train county faculty and their clientele on identification and scouting procedures as well as control strategies.
- Updates on soybean rust activities and findings have been presented to county extension faculty at the Agronomic In-service training in January of 2005-2014. Plans are made with county faculty at the in-service training in January each year for sentinel plots for that year.
- An EDIS publication has been written on Asian soybean rust and special announcements have been made of where soybean rust spread in sentinel plots in the counties. The website is updated weekly to keep county faculty and their clientele informed of where rust is and how fast it is moving. However, we have also made person phone calls and e-mails to each of the county faculty on the day rust was found in their county.
- Other educational activities include 8 radio interviews, 12 newsletter articles, 20+ farm magazine stories, 18 scientific publications, 26 scientific abstracts and posters, 16 invited presentations to growers groups and scientific meetings, and numerous presentations to research boards, and at field days, in service training programs, and presentations to farmer and industry groups. Provide weekly updates to the website to keep growers up to date on rust movement across Florida.
- Through the national “Center for Asian Soybean Rust” (CASR) we have cooperated extensively with 32 researchers and 9 graduate students from Midwest universities and Canada on numerous projects from 2004-2014 and serve as a resource for training researchers, consultants, and county faculty from all over the country as well as Florida and keep research projects going. 100% of the participants have said that they have gained knowledge on rust identification and control strategies and mentioned that it was the best all around in-service training that they had ever participated in (Quote from Iowa soybean extension faculty and consultants).
- 60% of the research data at the National Soybean Rust Symposium in St. Louis in December of 2006 and Louisville in 2007 was produced at NFREC and has continued into 2014 with cooperation from 15 state universities. CASR was developed as a state and national resource for training in identification of Asian soybean rust as well as the place to do research in the U.S. on the disease. Many efforts are underway to better understand the disease, learn how to control it and to develop germplasm that is resistant to it.
- A GAO report estimated that $299 mil. was saved by U.S. soybean growers in 2005 alone by having sentinel plots that monitored the spread of the rust from Florida.
- These efforts have continued into 2014 with county extension faculty and growers using the information on the http://sbrusa.net website. Sentinel plot monitoring has helped Florida growers determine when to apply fungicides to their soybean crop and has saved them 1-3 fungicide applications by weekly scouting and uploading of data onto this website for visual information on where the disease is.
- Florida county extension faculty have been involved with sentinel plots at 26 locations across the state and in management, and scouting of sentinel plots each year, 2005-2007. County faculty were trained during 2005-2012 on in all phases of identification, and management with 100% of those attending stating that they gained knowledge and were better able to identify the disease. In addition, we have trained over 700 people key people (extension faculty, extension specialists and consultants) from Florida and the U.S. on soybean rust identification; Identified effective chemical control strategies; Identified promising sources of resistance; Quantified the impact of row width, canopy microclimate, moisture, and temperature on disease development and spore release; Managed sentinel plots that were critical to informing Florida and the US soybean industry of rust development and over wintering.
- Due to the training of county faculty, Florida growers only made necessary and most effective fungicide applications to control soybean rust by having knowledge of where the disease was in the state.
- Nationally, rust was first identified by extension faculty and consultants in Midwest states who had training at NFREC in both 2006 and 2007 and they attributed their finds to the effective training that they received in Florida. A December, 2007 soybean magazine from Ohio stated that findings from research at the UF North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy went directly to extension in Ohio for use on farm for soybean rust management and control.
- With the more than doubling in price of soybeans in the last 12 months, soybean acreage is expected to quadruple in Florida in the coming year and our county faculty and consultants are trained to identify and provide effective control strategies for the growers.
There were around 2-3 mil. hits on the national website in both 2005 and 2006 and has continued to be widely used by U.S. soybean growers as shown below from monitoring soybean rust sentinel plots.
Hits for 2005-2013 on the http://sbrusa.net/ website. Over 10 mil. hits in 9 years.
Program Area 4 - New Project
Carinata as a “drop-in” fuel- (10% FTE)
In 2010 our lab began working as a partner with oilseed crops with a start up company and a company with oil conversion technology that could convert any oil type into a usable biofuel. Ethanol production from corn has not had the conversion ratio to avert a serious energy problem since it produces only 1-1.5 gallons of fuel for each gallon consumed in its production. Our lab worked with canola for 15 years and found it to be easy to produce in the SE U.S. but markets and production never took off as expected. We began working with camelina in 2010 as there were many questions about it in relation to energy production and the potential for two crops over the winter months. Our goal for a winter oilseed crop was that to produce enough oil to compete in the petroleum market without subsidies and to harvest the crop early enough in the spring that cotton, peanut or soybeans could be planted without delay. We calculated that Brassica carinata would have to produce about 3500-4000 lbs of seed/A to compete with petroleum. We found partners in Applied Research Associates in Panama City, Florida who had developed a procedure for making a “drop-in” fuel for military jets from almost any kind of oil and Agrisoma BioSciences, a Canadian company, with Brassica carinata non-edible oil. Agrisoma also had the world’s largest collection of Ethiopian mustards for variety development.
- to determine management strategies for producing carinata in the SE U.S.
- to find varieties that were short season and ready to harvest in late April or early May and produce 3000-4000 lbs/A of seed to compete with petroleum oil.
- to serve as a resource for information, training, research facilities, for the agricultural community in the area of biofuels crop production and as a key site for evaluating germplasm for commercial companies interested in biofuels along with provide training opportunities for county extension faculty and their clientele, extension specialists, consultants and scouts in Florida and the U.S.
- Hosting the national carinata working group along with the field tour showing progress on management of the crop set our lab up as a leader in winter oilseed crop production for future funding and help in discovering management practices.
- Several other universities have expressed a desire to cooperate on grants making this a national effort creating partnerships with industry and universities.
- Extension articles have been written that will help county extension faculty involved with the project give advice to growers.
- The working group field day was a success with the desire of Agrisoma to have as much as 10,000 acres of winter production in Florida in the fall of 2014 on old citrus grove land. Grain buyers will be at an upcoming biofuels conference this summer.
- We currently have two post docs and one graduate student working on this project with much enthusiasm for its potential as a biofuels crop for Florida.
- It is expected that Patterson Grain will have 5,000 acres of first year contracts in the fall of 2014 in Florida to start the biofuels project with ADM doing the press.
The potential looks good for the crop and our goal is to have a crop that will produce 200 gallons of biofuels per acre and have the value of meal for livestock feed in addition. Much work is to be done but many partnerships have been formed including the petroleum industry.