Today, Florida imports all of its approximately 380 million gallons of ethanol and other biofuels and spends nearly a billion dollars to do it. With a two-year timeline and a farm and fuel grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Energy, the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Ft. Pierce is testing two crops that could turn that around: non-edible sugarbeets called Energybeets, and an industrial sweet potato called an e-TuberTM. Energybeets produce twice as much sugar per acre compared with corn and could greatly reduce Florida’s need to import ethanol. Their stems and leaves can be sold for livestock feed, and they may even prove to be a promising potential replacement crop for citrus trees lost to citrus greening. Protein-rich eTubersTM produce five times the starch per acre compared with corn. They thrive in Florida’s climate, tolerating heat, drought, wet conditions, and even nematodes. The high-protein byproduct left over after eTubersTM are processed for biofuel is a nutritious food additive. The UF/IFAS research team, lead by Dr. Brian Boman, is determining the cost of producing, transporting, and processing the two crops to see whether they will increase Florida’s energy independence or even make Florida an energy exporter. This 2015 WQCS radio story provides more information.
WQCS newscaster Tiffany Termine interviews UF/IFAS’ Brian Boman about his biofuels crops production research. UF/IFAS IRREC Photo
The effort to track invasive Burmese pythons in south Florida has been getting a big boost from UF/IFAS Florida Master Naturalists, who have trained hundreds of snake-savvy spotters in an initiative called the Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring (EIRAMP) Citizen Science Program. Master Naturalists--UF/IFAS-trained volunteers--help researchers collect data on invasive species in south Florida and educate others about what to do in case of a Burmese python sighting. Volunteers use a mobile app called IveGot1 to snap a photo of a suspected invasive reptile and send it to the “Croc Docs,” researchers at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, Florida, who maintain an invasive species tracking database. Master Naturalists who have gone through the EIRAMP program also provide “eyes and ears” training to public sector employees who work in or near natural areas. So far, the program has trained 900 city and utility employees in the Treasure Coast region to spot and pythons and other invasive reptiles like tegus, iguanas, rainbow agamas and curlytailed lizards.
Photo: Master Naturalists Cindy Christie (left) and Mary Calo during a UF/IFAS EIRAMP resource monitoring training. UF/IFAS Photo by Ken Gioeli.