Jack Payne: A Chicken-And-Egg Situation

March 2, 2020

A homeowner or developer wants evidence that an innovation will pay off before investing $1,500 in it. Yet, the scientist needs the $1,500 investment before he or she can deliver the evidence.

That’s how innovation stalls. We at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are asking the state to help us get it into gear. There are products on the market now which, we believe, when added to lawn and landscape soils, can help dirt hang onto water. This could reduce irrigation needs. It may also reduce the need for inorganic fertilizers which heavy rains may carry off into our waters. We don’t know, though, until we try it on the scale of an experiment, in this case 200 homes.

It will cost about $920,000 to find out. The answer could help tens of thousands of households save money and do their parts to protect water quality. Because of the potential immense public benefit, a public investment is appropriate. So we’ve asked the Legislature to fund it. We can use your help. Please tell, call, write or visit your legislators about how UF/IFAS science helps your business. Or channel your input through FNGLA’s Ben Bolusky.
We know you already face risks aplenty -- destructive weather, volatile markets, labor shortages, changing consumer tastes. It’s part of the job of UF/IFAS to take on some of the risk of research. We try before you buy.

Our legislative budget request represents a classic land-grant partnership. Government support drives university research to address real-world needs identified by producers.

We still need an upfront investment from FNGLA members. In this case, we’re talking about time and energy. We need allies to help us inform Tallahassee about the impact this science could have and the public benefit it could deliver.

The possible payoff is an investment of $1,500 to $1,800 per household in the right amount and kind of organic fertilizer could pay for itself in less than three years. The savings would come from reduced water bills as plants would need less irrigation, especially as they’re getting established.
Beyond this, we have anecdotal information so far that the amendment leads to fewer landscape failures. This means fewer expensive replacements of sod, plants or trees.

We believe by the time the state-funded research is done, we’ll be able to demonstrate a return on investment which will incentivize others to put money into soil amendments. Wide adoption of this innovation could result in huge savings and greener landscape practices. A surge of private investment, $1,500 to $1,800 at a time, could bring innovation to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of new homes.

We believe the chance of success is high because we have accomplished scientists on the case. The new Center for Land Use Efficiency will deploy three water and turf experts on the study. We’re confident that A.J. Reisinger, Eban Bean and Mary Lusk will produce sound science.

AJ and Eban have already been working on soil amendments on a piecemeal scale – a house here, a house there. But to establish solid science, they need a much larger sample size.

You can help us get the state support we need to support you by educating your state House and Senate representatives how important science is to the green industry. Please contact Mary Ann Hooks at or Victoria Price at of our government relations team to learn more about how you can help.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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