Jack Payne: A Formal 'Thank You'

October 4, 2019

I don’t exactly have a bucket list going, but there are a few things I really want to do before I retire as leader of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. One is “Formally thank FNGLA.” A corollary to that is “Make Ben put on a tie.”

I got to do both late last month when UF/IFAS recognized FNGLA as its 2019 industry partner. Yes, Ben wore a tie to accept. So did Shawn Thomas and Ed Bravo. Since UF/IFAS bases its claims on evidence, see accompanying photo.

In all seriousness, we could have run old photographs from 2006, when FNGLA was the driving force behind the Legislature’s establishment and funding of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology. Or from 2014, when FNGLA citrus nursery division members helped raise the money for a citrus greenhouse at the Mid Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

Or from any year that FNGLA gave UF/IFAS floor space to share our science at the Tropical Plant International Expo or The Landscape Show. Or from any Horticulture Career Day for our students.

This is the way the land-grant model is supposed to work. Universities discover and deliver the science relevant to the working people in their state. Those people and industries in turn support the university with time, talent, treasure, and constant feedback to keep the academics focused on science that matters.

We get that feedback through FNGLA representatives serving on the UF/IFAS Florida Agriculture Council, the former Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology Advisory Board, the Florida-Friendly Landscape™ Advisory Board, and the Doctor of Plant Medicine External Advisory Committee. We also get it from everyday encounters between Extension agents and nursery operators and landscape professionals.

That close connection is important when an emergency pops up like the hibiscus bud weevil. There’s no time to waste when a pest that threatens untold millions of dollars in damage arrives. Ben and I and our organizations are mobilizing research money to get the science to protect hibiscus growers.

We expect that unfortunately, members will be able to provide our entomologist with plenty of weevils and infested plants, while others will grant her access to their nurseries to field test solutions. That can only happen fast when there’s a pre-existing relationship.

That relationship also includes government – in this case the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences Division of Plant Industry. It’s the three legged-stool of academia-industry-government that represents the land-grant mission in action.

I’ve built a lot of things in nearly a decade at UF/IFAS. There have been ribbon cuttings for research stations, greenhouses, student residences, even a man made reef. When I reflect on my legacy, though, I think of things like decades-old relationships that I was entrusted with and built upon.

As long as FNGLA has existed, it has been there for UF/IFAS. I’m glad to have had the chance to acknowledge that at our Dinner of Distinction last month.

We handed the plaque to Ben and Ed and Shawn, but I asked Ben for the space this month to thank all of you. So many of you have been such great supporters. When leadership changes at UF/IFAS, we don’t forget.

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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