Editor's note: A special thanks to Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton for coordinating The Immokalee Report.

Immokalee center moves forward on upgrades and expansionFaculty and staff at Southwest Florida Research and Education Center are busy planning for the new vegetable and citrus season. There also is excitement in the air as plans unfold to expand and renovate center facilities using $2 million appropriated by the state Legislature this fiscal year.

It is anticipated the center will expand by one-third of its present square footage to accommodate new faculty positions being requested this year by University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences from the Legislature.

This request is supported strongly by agricultural producers in the southwest Florida area and UF/IFAS administration.

IFAS Senior Vice President Jack Payne has also committed renovation funds this year of about $700,000 in addition to the $2 million. A special appreciation is extended to state legislators in the House and Senate who continue to support IFAS research and Extension efforts in Southwest Florida.

I am pleased to announce the inaugural open house at the center Dec. 5. This event will be open to everyone but a special emphasis will be placed on participation by legislators, congressional representatives, other elected officials and key community leaders in Collier, Hendry, Lee, Charlotte and Glades counties.  

The first issue of the SWFREC quarterly newsletter will be distributed in the near future, and the SWFREC Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab will re-open Oct. 1.

This lab will be an official clinic and part of the UF/IFAS Statewide Plant Disease Diagnostic Network managed by the Plant Pathology Department in Gainesville. A citrus field day will be held at the center Oct. 30, and spring vegetable field days will continue as we strive to convey useful technologies to our stakeholders.

The Southwest Florida Research and Education Foundation Inc. is a non-profit direct support organization (DSO) of university headquartered at SWFREC.

The current chair is Norman Todd, owner of Grove Crafters, a citrus management company. The foundation is attempting to lease additional land that can be used to support priority research and education programs.

The South Florida Agricultural Council based in LaBelle comprising key agricultural producers, shippers and packers in Southwest Florida, has the primary mission of supporting programs at the SWFREC.

The council is chaired by Aaron Troyer of Troyer Brothers in Fort Myers, a major grower, packer and shipper of potatoes. It has been active and effective in encouraging the state Legislature to appropriate funds critically needed to keep SWFREC viable and productive.

The council is fully engaged in efforts to acquire recurring dollars in the 2015 state budget needed to establish new faculty positions critically needed at the center.

As the new center director, I am very grateful for the excellent cooperation I have received from the UF/IFAS administration, active support from agricultural producers and team spirit of the faculty and staff.

Calvin Arnold is a professor and center director at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. He may be reached at cearnold@ufl.edu.