Jack Payne: I’ll let you in on a little secret

March 6, 2019

I’ll let you in on a little secret: There’s no physical place called the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, the science hub that serves many of FNGLA’s research needs.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is more interested in putting funding into research than into overhead. The Center is located wherever CLCE faculty are engaged in discovery. The desktop computer of Director Michael Dukes, for example. Or the UF/IFAS research and education centers. Or even a putting green or lawn where a faculty member consults with a superintendent.

Once a year, though, Dukes gathers many of the Center’s people in one place. This year’s Urban Landscape Summit on March 20 - 21 in Gainesville focuses, as its title suggests, on the “Future of Florida Landscapes.”

Dukes says that future is now. We don’t have 20 years to address the conundrum of reducing Florida’s use of water, fertilizer, fuel, and chemicals even as 85,000 single-family home permits (most with irrigated landscapes) are authorized annually (and that’s way down from historic highs).

Putting so many UF/IFAS landscape, ornamental plant, and turf experts into one room helps create an atmosphere of urgency.

To ensure this is not an echo chamber of UF/IFAS scientists talking only to each other, Dukes is bringing in an outside panel to talk about Florida’s future. In a session called “Toward Sustainable Florida Landscapes,” UF/IFAS scientists and anyone else who attends will hear from the people on the front lines of dealing with those colliding forces of building a bigger Florida that uses fewer natural resources.

These practitioners include representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Audubon Florida, a water/wastewater utility, leader of an industry-supported research foundation, and a water management district official.

Among outside experts, we lean heavily on Ben Bolusky. He not only provides valuable input as a member of the CLCE’s advisory board, but he was again in Tallahassee last month championing funding for CLCE so it can do more than ever for Florida’s green industry.

Government agencies, non-profits, and industry give us a reality check as we chart a course for the future. They also reiterate Dukes’ message that we need to find solutions now, not in 20 years.

The summit advances the public discussion of water quality and quantity beyond the headlines, politics, and finger pointing that often characterizes it.

Our scientists will talk about nutrient loss to water bodies from urban lawns and landscapes, low-irrigation turfgrass cultivars, homeowners’ attitudes, and more. The next day, CLCE scientists will get back to work trying to solve your problems now, not in 20 years.

That means they’ll need funding now. Last month, I asked you to listen to Ben about how you can help. I ask you again to follow Ben’s lead on making the case to policy makers that we need more of the science provided by CLCE to address water quality and quantity challenges. 

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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