Calvin Arnold to reprise role of SWFREC director

— Calvin Arnold to reprise role of SWFREC director —

 

Dr. Calvin Arnold has a habit of making big changes in April.

“I’ve been the subject of a fair amount of ribbing with people asking if this is an April Fool’s joke. I said, ‘No, it’s true. I’m actually doing this,’ ” he said.

‘This’ is his decision to assume leadership of the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. He’s done it before – in April. Arnold served as the center’s director from April 1985 until April 1995.

Stepping in as the center’s first permanent director in several years, Arnold said that when Dr. Jack Payne, the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, suggested he apply for the position, he warmed to the idea. “I had so much of my heart and soul and time invested there, I really wanted to help strengthen the center and accomplish things with the growers and the administration.”

Arnold most recently served as director of the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, a research facility that focuses on citrus, vegetables and nursery crops. He also was director of UF’s Indian River Research and Education Center from 1995 until 2001.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from the University of Florida, a master’s in fruit crops and a doctorate in horticulture from Michigan State University.

“It’s going to be an interesting challenge. Everyone has been very supportive and receptive. They give me the impression that they’re glad I’m coming back. I’m humbled that they didn’t forget about me,” Arnold said.

The Southwest Florida Research and Education Center has a rich history and has withstood its share of bumps in the road.  Located just north of Immokalee, it serves growers in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. In addition to serving that area’s growers with its research and extension efforts, the center has generated research that has benefited the agriculture industry statewide.

It was established in 1955 as the South Florida Field Research Station on 320 acres of land donated by Alico Inc. and Barron Collier Co. The center focused on research dedicated to improving vegetable production through better plant nutrition, the use of plastic mulch, drip irrigation and other procedures and technologies.

During the 1980s, agricultural leaders comprising the South Florida Agricultural Council petitioned state legislators to authorize public funding to expand the field research station into a full-service research and education center. All went well until budget cuts during the past 10 to 15 years trimmed the center’s efforts. The center struggled through major budget cuts over the years, losing faculty programs and crucial leadership. Supporters thought they had lost the battle to keep it afloat until last October, when Payne canceled an announced downgrade of the center to an extension and demonstration area. Instead of a cutback, Payne said the center would continue to conduct research in agricultural and natural resource areas.

Funding continues to lead the university’s list of concerns. Agriculture organizations including FFVA are voicing their support by urging lawmakers to provide needed dollars in the state budget to fund critical areas such as personnel, maintenance and new construction at the center.

“I really appreciate the efforts of FFVA, the growers and other groups that are supporting our cause in Tallahassee,” Arnold said. “We do need to strengthen the funding of the center in order to do the things we need to do for agriculture in Southwest Florida – research and extension-wise. Any funding received will go to strengthening existing programs and establishing new faculty positions.”

If the Legislature does come through with funding for new faculty, he said, “We’ll work closely with the ag constituents in South Florida and the university administration in Gainesville. We can do some good things even if we don’t get the funding, but it would sure be a nice shot in the arm.”

Arnold says his number one priority will be coordinating between the grower/agriculture constituents, the administration in Gainesville and the faculty and staff in Immokalee. “I have to look at the big picture and coordinate so that we all are moving in the same direction. I’ve had a lot of experience doing that over the years.  I’m looking forward to that. I told Jack Payne that when I finish my tenure of service there, the ship may not be totally and securely docked where he wants it to be, but I’m confident that it will be moving in the right direction steaming forward.”

Following Arnold’s retirement at the USDA facility in Fort Pierce, it will move three of its research leaders into a rotation of acting laboratory director for a two-month period each. During that six-month period, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service will conduct a search for a permanent director. Drs. Liz Baldwin, David Hall and Tim Gottwald will each serve as temporary director.

“I’ve had a good run with USDA for 13 years, and I’ve enjoyed the position. It’s given me a national perspective. We’ve done a lot of work with California and other production areas. But I’m ready for a change after these 13 years,” Arnold said. He also expressed his appreciation to FFVA President Mike Stuart and Membership & Marketing Director Mike Aerts for serving on the laboratory’s industry liaison committee and for FFVA’s support through the years.

Arnold can be reached at SWFREC via email (cearnold@ufl.edu) or at 239-658-3400.

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