Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column published in the September-October 2013 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.
In a matter of a few short weeks, the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee has gone from a patient with only a year to live to one with hopes of a long, prosperous life.
On Oct. 2, the university told center employees that it planned to keep the facility operating as a research center. As with most glimmers of hope comes a caveat.
In the center’s case, it’s funding.
In announcing the about-face, Jack Payne, University of Florida seniorvice president of agriculture and natural resources, blamed state-mandated salary increases for a budget crunch.
After all, university employees work for the state. He said he has asked UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciencesto draft a special legislative budget request.
Only weeks earlier, the center had been given a death notice when the university said it was going to halt research there as of Sept. 1, 2014. The extended deadline would give researchers there time to wrap up projects.
For the past two weeks, reasons for the center’s demotion circulated wildly. In an email to this editor, Payne discounted some of the rumors and blamed finances.
“SWFREC is the smallest of all of them,” he says. “It comes down to a question of the economies of scale and loss of critical mass.”
I don’t have to tell you how unpredictable lawmakers can be when it comes to financial matters. As I’m writing this column, the federal government is closed for business.
But I am optimistic that the state will come through with special funding for Immokalee. The center serves numerous area growers who were incensed when the university made the original announcement.
I have no doubt that these same growers will be on the phone, traveling to Tallahassee and doing whatever else it takes to keep the research center in research.
At a time when citrus greening is threatening the citrus industry and a host of pests is challenging tomato growers, the southwest region can ill afford not to have a science-based facility devoted to finding answers.