Photo: Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton, assistant professor of vegetable horticulture and Nathan Holt, graduate student, agricultural & biological sciences lead a tour of the center's farming areas Friday afternoon.
The center, now directed by Dr. Calvin E. Arnold was established in 1958 by Dr. Paul Everett and dedicated in 1986 as a UF/IFAS station on 320 acres serving citrus grower, farmers and the public for Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.
Dr. Everett developed plasiculture mulch, fertilization, and irrigation systems still in use today.
The site includes labs, the original 1955 buildings, dormitories for 15 visiting scholars and graduate students, a FAWN weather station, and test plots for citrus, peaches, sugar cane, and vegetables.
50 acres are devoted to vegetables, 80 acres in citrus, 100 acres for wildlife and 90 acres for buildings, roads, and a water reservoir.
What is believed to be the largest lysimeters in the U.S. are at the site, to measure field-scale water and nutrient dynamics.
Field tests are currently being done on genetically modified corn to evaluate effectiveness against fall armyworms and tomatoes are being grown to evaluate insecticides for control of whitefly and southern armyworms. Jalapeno peppers are grown for insecticide evaluation for pepper weevils.
A study on biological control of Brazilian Pepper is also being held at the center, as well as studies for citrus greening, the most serious citrus disease worldwide and is epidemic in Florida. All of the grove test trees at the center have greening. Tests are ongoing for composting, UV reflective mulch and soil applied insecticides to control citrus greening.
A test of "low-chill" peach trees is also ongoing. There are over 1,000 acres of peaches growing in Central and South Florida from varieties evaluated at the center. This variety is available in April when no other varieties are in stores yet.
33% of Southwest Florida land is devoted to agriculture with 1.04 million acres in pasture, 115,631 acres of sugarcane, 125,551 with citrus trees (95% for juice), 65,300 acres devoted to vegetables, and 7,564 in ornamental plants.
Vegetables are the largest grossing crop with $706 million sold last year, followed by citrus at $326 million, sugarcane at $190 million, ornamentals at $85 million, and cattle at $69 million.
Tomatoes is among the most expensive crop to produce in Florida, costing about $17,500 per acre to produce and harvest 1,400 25-pound containers. Bell peppers take about $18,500 per acre to produce 900 28-pound bushels. Oranges take about $3,800 per acre while Iowa field corn (for animal feed) about $800 per acre.
Prices being very volatile, growers often have quite a gamble to receive "break-even" prices for their crops. In 2013 bell peppers sold for $12,88 per bushel but the cost to produce was $19,47, while oranges brought 76 cents per box more than cost and tomatoes brought 15 cents per carton over cost.
Academic program areas at the center include Agricultural Economics (Dr. Fritz Roka), Citrus Horticulture (Dr. Bob Rouse), Entomology (Dr. Phil Stansly), Plant Pathology (Dr. Pam Roberts), Soil and Water Science (Dr. Kelly Morgan), Vegetable Horticulture (Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton) and Water Resources (Dr. Sanjay Shukla).
The center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and tours can be arranged for groups.