Dr. Jim Marois

Research:  Sod-based rotation

Sod-based rotation is a multi-state project that involves over 20 researchers and extension specialists mostly from Auburn, University of Georgia, University of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, The Rodale Institute, and the USDA/ARS.  Recently several other universities have started parallel studies.  This systems level farming enterprise incorporates cattle and perennial grasses into row crop production in the southeast and is funded from several sources, but supported primarily by USDA Special Research Grants.  Beginning in 2005, based on findings from the project, we have received grants from the North West Florida Water Management District.  We manage large, replicated plots established in Headland, AL, Marianna and Quincy, FL and Tifton, GA.  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service have begun working with us to establish extension programs where they can become involved in assisting farmers to adopt this practice.  In 2006, UGA’s NESPAL (a precision ag center) retrofitted our center pivot where we have 140 acres in a demonstration rotation setting at NFREC-Marianna for variable rate irrigation.  This brought a new aspect into the project – water conservation. 

Hardlock of cotton bolls is a major problem confronting cotton growers in the humid area of the cotton belt and has caused as much as 50% loss of the crop in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.  I determined the etiology of the disease, quantified its interactions with the environment, and developed appropriate management strategies with funds supplied by the industry and state of Florida.  We now have clear evidence that the fungus Fusarium verticillioides is a major factor in the disease.  We also have evidence that interactions with soil fertility and canopy microclimate can predispose plants to disease and that the disease can be successfully controlled with fungicides that are now fully registered based upon our findings. 

In November, 2004 I discovered Asian Soybean Rust in Florida.  This was within a week of the first finding in the United States in Louisiana.  With 73,000,000 acres of soybeans in the U.S. and the possibility of having to make 1-2 fungicide applications at a cost of $15-20 per acre, this discovery received considerable attention.  The finding was not entirely unexpected and the USDA, Homeland Security (as a terrorist tool) and industry had been preparing for its arrival for years.  It did, however, arrive several years earlier than anticipated.  The present thinking is that it came in with Hurricane Ivan.  Working with a team of scientists, a national sentinel plot system was established across the soybean producing states in 2005.  Funding was provided by USDA/APHIS and industry.  Since 2005 I have been responsible for establishing soybean sentinel plots across Florida and monitoring them weekly for rust.  The results are immediately posted on a national web site (sbrusa.net).   Over 104,700 visits and over 1,239,000 hits were recorded for the national website from January 1, 2009 to October 15, 2009 (latest data available). Many of the project participants noted the extension importance of the sentinel plot in supporting “no fungicide necessary” recommendations.  Our work showed that the disease did not progress as fast as was anticipated, and a US Government Office of Accountability study concluded that over $300,000,000 in fungicides were NOT applied based upon our reports from the southeast.  In 2006 we accepted the role of making the NFREC the center for soybean rust research in the U.S.  With our excellent facilities, broad expertise, and reliable disease pressure we are recognized as a major contributor to the national research program.  Since 2005 over 600 researchers, consultants, and growers have visited our trials, including participants in 7 formal 2-day extension classes.  We also hosted three national meetings and have ongoing cooperative experiments with researchers from the USDA/ARS and 11 other universities. 

Brassica carinata is a promising oilseed crop with great potential for profitable cultivation in Florida. Its high oil content and favorable fatty acid profile make it suitable for the biofuel industry, especially as a biojet fuel. The University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy, FL, has been working with Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. to identify advanced carinata genotypes that are high yielding (seed and oil), disease resistant, early maturing, and adapted to Florida.

Professor — Plant Pathology