The UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center has been helping watermelon farmers save water—and money—for 30 years. All 40 area melon farmers have transitioned to best management practices such as using plastic mulching and drip irrigation, and in a 2016 survey they reported water-use reductions from 50 to 80 percent per acre with equivalent savings in fuel costs. They’ve also reduced their applied nitrogen 15 to 30 percent, all while increasing yields from 25,000 to 40,000 pounds per acre in the early 1990s to 50,000 to 60,000 pounds per acre today. The water they save each year amounts to about 2 billion gallons, roughly equivalent to the water 65,000 Florida residents use in a year. The UF/IFAS-led transition to best management practices has helped the environment by making watermelon farming more sustainable. For the farmers, all that saved water (not to mention fuel and nitrogen) boils down to profits. “The chain stores want a quality-grown watermelon,” reported Jody Land, owner of Jody Land Farms in Branford, Florida, “and now we can provide that.”
UF/IFAS Extension Agent Mace Bauer (right) and a watermelon farmer examine a soil moisture monitoring device. UF/IFAS File Photo
In 2012, Tropical Storm Debby devastated communities in the southeastern United States, causing $250 million in losses. Much of that damage occurred in the beautiful, historic town of Live Oak, a tiny community in Suwanee County, Florida, that received more than 30 inches of rain in about 60 hours and lost hundreds of homes and other property to flooding and sinkholes. When federal support proved insufficient, the citizens of Live Oak reached out to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences for assistance in their recovery effort to rebuild their town. UF/IFAS filled in the gaps and provided the support the community needed to come together and make a plan for their recovery. This video describes how UF/IFAS helped Live Oak get back on its feet.
Photo: Flooding in Live Oak, 2012. Photo Suwannee Democrat