For Hometown News
TREASURE COAST -- Florida's citrus growers are faced with a growing challenge - With citrus acres in production falling due to canker and greening disease can these fallow fields be put to a better use? At the same time, finding fresh water for Florida's cities is becoming a real concern.
Florida has plenty of water averaging over 53 inches of water each year. It's just never where you want it when you want it. Agriculture and water engineers and educators are working with elected officials to explore a unique approach - water farming. Water farming uses the fallow citrus fields to hold water in Florida's rainy season releasing the saved water into the regional aquifer in the dry season. But water is heavy and moving it requires a lot of energy which is typically done today using diesel fuel.
The challenge - how to create a sustainable, environmentally and fiscally responsible pump design for future water management that benefits both agriculture and water consumers in the face of rising fuel prices.
Two teams of college seniors from the University of Florida at Gainesville recently accepted the challenge completing a yearlong design competition. Vying for a cash prize and bragging rights, the students, all of whom are agricultural engineering majors, utilized 200 acres of fallow citrus fields on the Adams Ranch in St. Lucie County as the subject of the competition.
As part of a learning and awareness-building project sponsored by the Treasure Coast Research Education Development Authority in cooperation with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, since September, the teams have been researching, planning, visiting, measuring, brainstorming, and pricing out a variety of options to ensure the fiscally and environmentally sound way to manage the flow of water needed to support Florida agriculture industry.
The designs created by the two teams were formally presented to a select panel of knowledgeable and experienced judges comprised of members of the agriculture and citrus communities, fellow engineers, and environmental specialists.
The spokesperson for the winning team, Jamie Sortevik, explained that the entire experience had been tremendously educational for all of the students, giving them an opportunity to learn hands-on lessons about the difference between having a great idea and finding a way to provide the volunteer client (in this case the Adams Ranch) with a solution that was not only feasible, but affordable too.
Doug Bournique of the Indian River Citrus League, who served as one of the competition's judges, said he was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the students, their presentation, and the quality of their work. He praised the students, saying the experience they'd received would likely provide a head start for the students in achieving success in finding great jobs in their chosen field.
Mr. Stoffella, a fellow judge and director of the University of Florida's Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, remarked that the caliber of the students was without equal.
Mr. Stoffella noted that, despite the opportunity to keep all of the prize money to split amongst themselves, the winning students split their prize money with all the participating competition students - an example of teamwork and collaboration that defined their integrity and youthful camaraderie. Realizing the potential for water farming on fallow citrus fields is also a step closer due to the students' hard work and ingenuity.
The competition's final presentation and awards were held at TCERDA's 1,650-acre Research and Education Park, located off of Kings Highway. Anchored by the USDA's 170,000 square-foot Horticultural Research Laboratory and the 90,000 square-foot University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, St. Lucie County's Treasure Coast Research Park is home to more than 200 scientists, researchers and educators.
For more information, call (772) 467-3107 or visit www.tcerda.org.