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Drone technology: UF/IFAS Extension highlight

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At a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting, Jim Davis, County Extension Director for UF/IFAS Extension for Hernando and Sumter Counties, gave an update on some of their 2020 highlights and what they’re working on during 2021. He also highlighted some of their staff members. 

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Jim Davis stated, “I am very excited to introduce to you some of the 2020 highlights in Extension and future projects. Technology is ever-increasing and UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County is on the cutting edge. We are currently utilizing drone technology to map storm damage; irrigation leaks and manatee counts in rivers. We will be conducting experiments to detect moisture damage around houses and thermal imaging for wildlife counts. We will be conducting drone workshops so that our citizens can have access to teaching materials and instruction necessary for their pilot’s license. This opportunity may increase existing wages within their employment and even entrepreneurship. We truly appreciate your support and look forward to creating milestones in the near future.” Jim also expressed how proud he was of his staff, one big thing they did during 2020 was provide information and different classes via webinars. 17,000 people attended those webinars, mainly local residents but since these are webinars open to the public, there were those from other counties, states, and countries who attended as well. During this time they did 4,000 office consultations and 1600 field consultations as well, staff had a wonderful outreach. They fulfilled commitments and needs from clients. “Thankfully we’re back up and running, a very big flow of people coming in asking about landscaping and pest control, such as termites,” stated Davis. 

For a little history on the IFAS extension, it was curated during the Education Revolution. In 1862, the Morrill Act was passed and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, donating public lands to support colleges and providing citizens greater access to higher education. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act was passed, providing federal support for land-grant institutions to offer educational programs through cooperative Extension efforts. Extension is a federal and state/local partnership, so one of the things they are proud of is they provide all the latest science-based research to the public. They pride themselves on being an unbiased institution.

Upcoming projects include the 5th annual Hernando Coastal Cleanup, a seminar with Dr. Lester “Is your well water well?”, and a private well and septic system educational workshop. A lot of people have questions regarding well water and IFAS gives a free water testing kit for bacteria, and Hernando County 4-H they will have their award recognition for the wonderful things that those kids do.

Matt Smith who is the Sustainability, Agriculture, and Food Agent, is a multi-county agent whose program provides education to Hernando County agricultural producers and pesticide applicators that facilitate economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable improvements in agricultural management. He’s also been working with Florida Sun Hops in Brooksville which is the largest hops grower in Florida. Alternative crops are an especially difficult challenge. Over the past three years, the growers and Matt have developed a strong working relationship and have worked together to completely overhaul their production methods and the field itself. This month marks their first full-scale commercial harvest. He also works closely with the Extension’s drones. Matt teaches classes with other agents, a three-day session is hosted to give these individuals a pilot license, which you need to commercially fly a drone. The IFAS Extension has more drones than any other district in the state. In fact, the Hernando IFAS Extension plans on doing more drone flights this year. Through the various drones, IFAS will be able to see things like damage to any sea walls and any flooding. You can actually see the scarring on manatees through the drone pictures, they’re that detailed.  They’re also used for wildlife counts and hunting, especially for hog hunting, which is Florida’s most invasive species. The drones can also go to a large field and locate irrigation breaks, because of thermal temperatures. Jim Davis also stated they’re looking into taking them around houses to look for water damage. Such as, if you have a termite problem you will have areas and excessive moisture in one area that homeowners might not know about. 

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Dr. Bill Lester who currently works for UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County provides a mix of horticultural knowledge and management skills, his current responsibilities include teaching the public and working closely with county and professional clients. He has done an amazing job within the online lectures and webinars, as well as providing information and guidance to clients through

workshops, plant clinics, displays, and events. He oversees the Vegetable Garden at Arc of the Nature Coast and teaches their Master Gardener Volunteers. In the past year, he has also worked with communities such as The Wellington and continues to find solutions to turf problems and excessive water and fertilizer use. https://www.hernandosun.com/article/wellington-turf-swap-project-hernando-county

Brittany Hall-Scharf is the Florida Sea Grant and Marine Science Agent with the

UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County Office. Her program aims to conserve coastal and marine resources and enhance economic opportunities for the people of Florida. Her focus areas include: Healthy Coastal Environments, Sustainable Fisheries, Resilient Communities, Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development.

The Livestock Extension Agent, Laura Bennett, in Pasco, Sumter, and

Hernando Counties assists producers in the production of quality, economic, efficient, and marketable livestock. The agent delivers educational programs in livestock production and management, forages and pastures, and agricultural awareness. She also serves as a resource person and works cooperatively with producer groups, associations, and state/local government

and regulatory agencies in topic areas related to the livestock industry. She offers educational opportunities addressing pasture, weed, and livestock. Her upcoming events include:

Winter Supplementation Seminar, Dade City, September 23

Environmental Lands Management School, Cross Bar Ranch, October 21

Nancy Moores is and has been the Hernando County 4-H Youth Development agent for 23 years now. Florida 4-H aspires to be the leading youth development program that creates positive change in youth, families, and communities. 4-H is open to all youth, ages 5-18, determined as of September 1 of the current 4-H program year and open to all counties in FL. The program strives to meet the needs of today’s youth through education in nutrition, physical fitness, substance abuse, safety, and social and emotional wellness.

Lastly, Scott Taylor with IFAS Hernando County primarily focuses on residents and their money management. From balancing checkbooks to buying their first home, he’s here to help with it all. He also helps mortgage companies with their clients who aren’t ready for home loan help better their credit by credit coaching and budgeting to get ready to apply for a mortgage. Scott also works with juvenile justice teaching basic life skills and understanding when they are forced to become independent. He provides career knowledge and basic money management to try to provide peer or adult leadership that these teens are missing.

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