Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Observations, Evidence and Turf Management - A UF/IFAS Turf School Interview

Turf and irrigation go hand in hand. So you can imagine my excitement last summer when I heard that a two day Turf School was being organized in South Florida by top UF/IFAS Turf Specialists. I was not able to attend, but I mentioned it to every extension agent I encountered working in water or horticulture. For 2017 there are two Turf Schools on the docket: one next week and one in April. Assistant Professor and Turf School organizer Dr. Travis Shaddox was kind enough to speak with IrriGator about turf and the upcoming schools.
Dr. Travis Shaddox
How did the turf school begin and what inspired it?
The very first ever turf school was August 24/25 of 2016. We modeled it after the palm school which is held around the state - the two faculty, Drs. Monica Elliot and Timothy Broschat are stationed here with me in Fort Lauderdale. They’ve had quite a bit of success over the years with that format. When I came in from the industry (I worked in the industry for 10 years) I had a different perspective from some folks and I saw this as a great need for the industry. So when I came in Drs. Elliot and Broschat already had a system set up for their palm school so I copied that over with the assistance of Drs. Jason Kruse and Bryan Unruh. We put a date on the calendar and said let’s get it going. I think all three of us have seen a great need from the industry to get timely and current research information to them directly from the researchers doing the work.
What can an attendee expect at the turf school?
The entire content is turf. Whether it’s a fertilizer distributor, or sod farmer, or golf course superintendent, or a homeowner, or a lawn care operator, or UF faculty - whoever is interested in learning an evidence-based approach to turf management, this is what the class does. This is how we differ from a lot of the current opportunities for education that exist through various other venues. On each slide we cite a refereed publication source for the information we’re providing. This is not anecdotal information. This is not observational information that we’re giving the audience. This is evidence that exists in the scientific literature. This is how we’ve set it up and it provides, in my opinion, a very clear, concise, unbiased approach to disseminating this information to the industry.
Register today for the September 2017 Pest Management Turf School
For the pest turf school (coming up at the end of this month) the entire content is based on the four primary pests that turf managers encounter: nematodes, weeds, diseases and insects. What attendees can expect is some basic information in the form of a lecture, then following that up with a laboratory exercise looking through microscopes at nematodes, or looking at diseases, identifying certain insects and so forth - hands-on activities to reinforce the content of the lecture. The opportunity here is not just learning in the class but also learning by doing hands-on exercises or going out into the field and actually observing what the presenter provided in the lecture - basically using an alternative method of learning that often times people value.

Dr. Jason Kruse instructs on soil/water dynamics during the previous Turf School (via turfnet)
During the Water, Temperature, Light and Nutrition turf school (2016) we did an exercise in the laboratory. And they just couldn’t figure it out. It was step one, step two, step three. And they just followed the instructions – dealing with water movement in soils. And one of the attendees looked at me and said “Dr. Shaddox, this just doesn’t make any sense. How is this happening?” And I said well, you know, this is what’s happening. And he goes “so what you’re saying is…” I said no, no. I’m not saying that. You’re saying that. You’re the one doing it. And because he was the one doing it, it was just baffling to him. Because he was the one doing it, I think it really drove the message home to make the point of what we were saying in the lecture portion regarding water. It’s really gratifying to see those attendees, they were just blown away. 
Register today for the Water, Temperature, Light and Nutrition Turf School
What are some simple ways to stay a step ahead of pests with your turf?
One way of staying a step ahead of anything on turf is to be aware of the environment. Turf managers are not just managing turf. Their responsibilities are vast. They’re primarily dealing with people. They can often times lose track of what’s going on environmentally. The seasons generally are the same year to year and the activity of pests is generally the same every year, at least correlated to the seasons. For example, if a superintendent or turf manager loses track of what season it is they may not recognize how early in the season weeds would germinate. Weed germination occurs, now you’re dealing with a post-emergent herbicide application rather than a pre-emergent herbicide application because pre-emergent is no longer valuable after weeds have germinated. 

To stay a step ahead a turf manager would lay out an annual calendar of when certain things generally occur and back up the date accordingly to allow for purchasing a certain product, or timely application of cultural practices and so forth, so that when those pest populations begin to influence the turf you’re already one step ahead. Responding to the problem after you’ve seen it is often times more costly than preparing prior to that. Be aware of the environment and be aware of how pests tend to elevate populations in correlation to the environmental factors.  

Despite turf being considered Florida-Friendly, in some circles there is criticism about the resource inputs required to maintain it. Any thoughts?
I think labeling or identifying any plant by a specialist who is not a specialist in that plant is naïve. If statements are being made about any landscape plant I would hope that it’s being made by a specialist on that plant. If it’s not then I would discount that information. At the end of the day whatever information is provided by IFAS must be reinforced with evidence not observation. Observations are the beginnings of the scientific process. Evidence is the result of the scientific process. Those are two different things.

What is the capacity for turf school registration?
40 seats are available for a fee and 5 are available for state and county extension agents. State and county extension agents are not charged the registration fee. There are still a number of spots available for the January event but we expect those to be filled soon.

Photosynthesis demonstration during the previous Turf School (via Dr. Unruh)
Everybody that left the first event, they were all extremely content. They didn’t have any concerns at all. This event is not sit down and listen to someone lecture. It’s conversational and interactive. It’s cross-discipline in terms of turf industry – you have sod producers and golf course superintendents. You have people asking questions that other people in other industries might not have ever thought of. Through that interaction in the group a lot of attendees end up getting information that they never dreamed they would get from sitting there listening to a lecture because somebody in the audience asked a question that they never even considered. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Catching up with the Cloud: WiFi-based Irrigation Controllers

By Morgan Hopkins, FYN Agent UF/IFAS Miami-Dade County

Who would have thought that many of life's activities can now be accomplished with an app? From dating, to grocery shopping, and now irrigation scheduling - our hand-held computers (a.k.a. smart phones) have simplified so many of our tasks!

UF-ABE's Dr. Kati Migliaccio knows a thing or two about irrigation apps
Catching On
Within the last year or so, we (the Florida Yards andNeighborhood Program’s Urban Conservation Unit) have seen more and more customers from our Landscape Irrigation Evaluation and Rebate Program (LIERP) show an interest in WiFi or cloud-based irrigation controllers – attracted by the appeal of convenience and high-tech features.

A Rachio cloud-based timer with rain sensor in Coral Gables, FL
When in Rome
If we see it in the field, we need to know how to use it! So thanks to some generous brand reps, we’re now using and learning more about how these new cloud-based, smart irrigation controllers work. Once connected to a local WiFi signal, these controllers generate run times based on external information, such as area weather data. The WiFi capability allows homeowners and property managers to access their systems from an internet connection anywhere in the world. Each brand offers several different interactive features, and most simplify the timer programming process through user-friendly app design.

Miami-Dade FYN Agent Morgan Hopkins
Irrigate From Anywhere
As technology continues to advance, we will see these controllers change internally as well as externally - as in our perception of water management in the landscape. Here’s to hopping on the smart app band wagon and hoping that positive water conservation behavior change comes along with it!

Curious about cloud-based irrigation? This video introduces some basic concepts. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dispatches from the Virgin Islands: Anticipation

This week Agronomy Masters Student David Hensley is embarking on a research trip to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in St. Croix. Mr. Hensley will be stationed there until late spring and has agreed to send dispatches to IrriGator about his work and progress there. Here is the first in his series of contributions:

Currently I'm working on an MS thesis degree in the agronomy department with an Agroecology concentration. I just submitted my thesis proposal and now know that my research is focused on the interaction between synthetic nitrogen fertilization and biological nitrogen fixation in crop rotations. My overall interests are nitrogen fixation, crop rotation, intercropping, and nutrient cycles. 

Caledonia Valley experimental farm (courtesy UVI)
Next Stop: St. Croix
My advisor, Dr. Diane Rowland, teaches a class called Global Agroecosystems that I enrolled in for my first semester, fall 2016. One of the great things about this course is the large diversity of guest lecturers we had, and it was one of those lecturers that introduced me to the opportunity at UVI. Dr. Stuart Weiss is an agronomist there and gave us a guest lecture about his research into low-input agriculture in tropical systems, which involves a lot of crop rotation, intercropping, and the like, often incorporating nitrogen fixing crops. I came to UF with an existing history and interest in tropical regions, studying agricultural policy in West Africa in my undergraduate degree and doing a couple of basic on-farm volunteer experiences for a few months in Senegal and Jamaica. All of this combined to pique my interest in his work immediately. 

David Hensley in action at UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Ag Extension Center
I'll be in St. Croix from mid-January to the end of April. Thankfully, their growing season is year-round, so I'll be exposed to plenty of activity during that time.

Looking Ahead 
Obviously it's hard not to get excited about traveling to a new place, especially one as beautiful as St. Croix. After Dr. Weiss' lecture, I googled some images of the island, and I couldn't believe how amazing it looked. I love being in the Caribbean, as I'm sure most anyone would, and I love tropical farms, too, so I am really excited about being back in the mix, with some formal agronomy experience this time, to see how it all works and get involved with it.

At work on a nutrient study in Live Oak, FL: Sienna Turner, Maria Zamora and David Hensley
At a basic level, getting some formal experience with tropical agriculture is enough for me. But I'm sure I'll meet that goal no matter what else happens. A more ambitious goal that I have is to walk away knowing a little more about what works in practice in low-input tropical systems as far as crop rotation and intercropping goes, and my ideal goal is to get a lot of information about the realities of nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation in that kind of system. I'm hoping for the best!

Editor's Note: Originally intended as a series of reports spanning the duration of Mr. Hensley's research assignment at UVI, this content will continue on a more Agronomy-focused digital platform. Read the next and final dispatch here

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Research and science policy share the stage at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting

As it has for decades, the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) took place this month in San Francisco, CA. AGU is a professional society representing earth and space scientists, who study a broad variety of sub-disciplines such as Hydrology, Biogeosciences, Atmospheric Sciences, Seismology, Oceanography, Geophysics, and more. Although each of these specialties sound fairly niche on their own, together they compose a huge community of scientists. The AGU Fall Meeting attendance in 2015 amounted to 24,000 people, making this conference the largest annual gathering of geoscientists in the world. Every day while walking up the stairs of the conference center, I remarked to myself that the geoscientists on each floor looked like ants flooding out of a mound.

The AGU Fall Meeting includes hundreds of oral and poster presentations. World-class scientists from all over the globe attend this meeting to present recent scientific findings and meet with old and new colleagues. As a result, the networking opportunities at the AGU Fall Meeting are unmatched, and students have easy access to renowned researchers throughout its duration.

With 2016 being an election year, this year’s Fall Meeting included several notable talks related to science policy and politics. California Governor Jerry Brown spoke to the crowd on topics related to science funding for the geosciences, as well as “green” policies that California state legislators have spearheaded.

Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, was another notable speaker at this year’s meeting. Secretary Jewell spoke of the importance of ensuring that science has a seat at the table, because “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” She also emphasized the need for scientists to fight disinformation with relatable facts, which requires effective communication of science’s real-world impacts. In addition to speaking, Secretary Jewell attended the conference, and even stopped by the poster session. The networking doesn’t get much better than this, folks!

In addition, Dr. Waleed Abdalati, former NASA Chief Scientist (2011-2012), gave an enlightening talk on the history of earth observations from space. He highlighted several old NASA promotional materials and news snippets from decades past that emphasized how much we’ve learned about the earth in a short time period. For example, it wasn’t until 1969 when satellites captured imagery of Hurricane Camille that we understood the scale, magnitude, and organization of hurricanes. That’s only 37 years ago! Dr. Abdalati ended his presentation by sharing some of his wisdom on the topic of science communication, particularly on potentially divisive issues:

As you may have noted, talk of science policy and politics always veers towards the topic of science communication. AGU’s operations include staff devoted to science policy. This group of public affairs specialists and analysts hosted several events at this year’s Fall Meeting, which speaks to how expectations for scientists to communicate effectively are increasing. At some of these events, you could find science communication cards that highlighted how commonly-used words in science can come across as confusing and misleading to laypersons:

Effective science communication was also in focus at the poster sessions. Thousands of students present posters, and about 5,000 choose to compete for the Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA). Of these 5,000, the top 3-5% presenters in each sub-discipline of AGU will be awarded with an OSPA. Scientists attending the conference are asked to judge the posters. The judges never reveal to presenting students that they are judges, which requires all presenters to give their best throughout their allotted time in in the poster session – I thought this was a great idea! I presented two posters this year: one in an educational session, and one in a session on hydrology:

The Fall Meeting is always in San Francisco, but, due to renovations taking place at the conference center in which the meeting is hosted, next year’s conference is coming to New Orleans, LA! For those of us in Florida, that makes for a much shorter journey, which is a great opportunity. Don’t pass it up!