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USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small Continues College Tour with Visit to University of Florida

Visit underscores Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to Land-Grant Institutions, Includes Specialty Crop Roundtable
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USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small Continues College Tour with Visit to University of Florida

The visit is part of Deputy Secretary Torres Small’s College Tour, which began earlier this month, and continues over several weeks. 

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Jan. 26, 2024 – U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small visited the University of Florida (UF) on Friday, January 26, to highlight the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ongoing support for agricultural research and education at UF and meet with students to discuss potential career opportunities available for the next generation of farmers, foresters, conservationists, and entrepreneurs.

The visit is part of Deputy Secretary Torres Small’s College Tour, which began earlier this month, and continues over several weeks. Torres Small is visiting public and Land-grant Universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and community colleges across the country to highlight how each institution type is partnering with USDA to advance student success, rural prosperity, climate-smart practices, competition, and sustainability. Her tour also highlights how the Biden-Harris Administration is making a difference on college campuses, from new funding for education, scholarships, and training to cutting edge research and economic development programs that build a food and agriculture food system for the future. The Deputy was joined for the visit to UF by USDA Chief Scientist/Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young.

USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small Continues College Tour with Visit to University of Florida

The Deputy and Under Secretary’s visit included stops at three sites where students, faculty, and University partners conduct cutting-edge studies and demonstrations to support innovation agriculture: UF’s Field and Fork Garden, Grow Chamber Building, and Horticulture Complex – including stops at two laboratories that feature blueberry and potato breeding research. UF and USDA have a longstanding partnership to drive forward the Land-grant mission of research, education, and extension. Multiple USDA investments across these areas have allowed UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences to provide opportunity to the diverse communities and producers served by the University. These investments include a total of more than $240 million in competitive and capacity grant funding since 2018 through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Funding highlights include:

•    Specialty Crop Research Initiative: In Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, UF received more than $8.5 million to help increase production efficiency in Huanglongbing (HLB) affected citrus groves and to protect citrus production nationwide by developing the first non-transgenic gene-edited citrus varieties resistant/tolerant to HLB. Citrus HLB, previously called citrus greening disease, is one of the most destructive diseases of citrus worldwide.

•    Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP): In FY 2022, UF received more than $600,000 through BFRDP to train bee managers in business planning, assist bee managers with value-added product development, and increase revenue for bee managers.

While on campus, the Deputy Secretary and Under Secretary also hosted a Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative roundtable discussion with local specialty crop producers and agriculture industry leaders. They also announced the establishment of USDA’s Pollinator Subcommittee as part of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board. In response to stakeholder input, USDA is appointing 9 scientific and industry experts to this new subcommittee to provide data-driven guidance and input that support our nation’s pollinators. Pollinators are key to producing more than 100 U.S. crops, including the fruits, nuts and vegetables important to a healthy diet. 

“USDA is harnessing the insights of our scientific community to advance large-scale, collaborative pollinator research to address the tough challenges that our nation’s farmers, producers and bee managers face given recent declines in pollinator health,” said Under Secretary Jacobs-Young. “Pollinators are vital to our nation’s food system, economy and ecosystems and this new subcommittee will play an important role in ensuring they can thrive in the face of new and emerging threats.”

“Thanks to historic funding secured by President Biden, USDA is creating new opportunities for the next generation of farmers, foresters, researchers, and entrepreneurs in Florida,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “These investments will bring economic opportunity back to rural communities, better position students to build a more resilient food system, and give them the chance to succeed in the communities they love.”

“With the help of our partners such as UF we are able to help our agricultural producers apply conservation practices that improve their economic bottom line,” said Juan C. Hernandez, NRCS Florida State Conservationist.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has invested $70 million and selected 139 partners as part of its 2023 Equity in Conservation Outreach Cooperative Agreements. In Florida, USDA is investing funding through NRCS agreements for partnerships that improve outreach to underserved producers and communities to expand access to conservation assistance. Florida NRCS has 24 Active Agreements totaling $35,161,846 that include outreach agreements and technical assistance.

USDA Farm Service Agency’s Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program offers specialty crop producers assistance to help cover costs with complying with regulatory and market-driven food safety certification requirements. USDA FSA will accept applications for 2023 through January 31, 2024.  

“Our programs provide a safety net for Florida’s farmers and ranchers and help position them to compete in a global economy,” said Deborah Tannenbaum, FSA Florida State Executive Director.

USDA Rural Development (RD) is making investments that will expand markets for agricultural producers and strengthen American food and agriculture supply chains in Florida,” said Lakeisha Hood Moise, RD Florida State Director. 

One Florida example is Orchard Pond Organics, which received $250,000 to produce high-quality foods using sustainable practices. Project funds will be used for working capital to add value to its raw product of fruit and market expansion of the Apple Carrot Fruit Rolls.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human, and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

As the USDA’s primary private lands conservation agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service generates, manages, and shares the data, technology, and standards that enable partners and policymakers to make decisions informed by objective, reliable science. And through one-on-one, personalized advice, NRCS works voluntarily with producers and communities to find the best solutions to meet their unique conservation and business goals and to help address climate change – ensuring the long-term sustainability of American agriculture.

The Farm Service Agency serves farmers, ranchers, foresters, and agricultural partners through the effective, efficient, and equitable delivery of federal agricultural programs that offer producers a strong safety net through the administration of farm commodity and disaster programs. Additionally, through conservation programs, FSA continues to preserve and protect natural resources and provides credit to agricultural producers who are unable to receive private, commercial credit, including targeted loan funds for beginning, underserved, women and military veterans involved in production agriculture.

Rural Development supports rural prosperity by investing in modern infrastructure such as high-speed internet, electric service, and water and waste treatment systems. RD helps eligible rural persons buy or rent affordable housing. Through partnerships RD works to build or improve essential community facilities such as hospitals, first responder stations, libraries, and schools. Rural economic development is also boosted through funding technical assistance for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

John Parker III, USDA Office of the Secretary, Special Advisor,  
Chris Vivian, UF IFAS Associate VP Communications,
Cynthia Portalatin, USDA NRCS Public Affairs,