The United Nations has declared 2015 the “International Year of Soils” and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is recognizing this with its 16th annual Soil and Water Science Research Forum on Sept. 17 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union.

The forum is free and open to the public and is being held in the union’s grand ballroom from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“Soil and water serve as the foundation for urban, agricultural, and natural ecosystems – so much so that UF began publishing research on the topic in 1888,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “People tend to take soil for granted. They overlook that life as we know it could not exist without soil. Soil science is so important in the management and protection of this hidden treasure that supports food production and natural resources.”

Payne said UF’s long history with soil and water science research makes it one of the leading sources of expertise to tackle challenges not dreamed of in the 19th century: climate change, sea-level rise, and meeting the food and fiber needs of a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050.

The forum is designed to bring together representatives from state and federal agencies, as well as private industry, faculty, graduate students, and prospective students. Also, it provides an opportunity for all involved to interact.

“For more than 100 years, the soil and water sciences faculty, staff and students have made significant contributions to improving the productivity of Florida’s agriculture and have contributed to soil and water science research at national and international levels,” said K. Ramesh Reddy, graduate research professor and chairman of UF’s Department of Soil and Water Science.  “As we celebrate 2015 as the International Year of Soils, we are hoping to share our knowledge with those stakeholders and lawmakers who make our research possible.”

The keynote speaker for this year’s forum is Andrew Sharpley, distinguished professor of soil and water sciences at the University of Arkansas, director of the Discovery Farms for Arkansas Program and chair of the Division of Agriculture’s Environmental Task Force.  His presentation is “Exploring Phosphorus Paradoxes to Avoid Unintended Consequences.”

Faculty members working for the soil and water science department are located both on the main campus in Gainesville and at nine off-campus Research and Education Centers. The mission of the department is to conduct basic and applied research on soil and water-related problems associated with sustaining agriculture and protecting natural resources.

“I am confident saying that this is the best time in my lifetime to be a soil scientist,” said Nick Comerford, director of the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy and former President of Soil Science Society of America.  “We need to feed 9 billion people on less land in the near future, detoxify soils used as dumping grounds, understand the most biodiverse ecosystem and food web on the planet, and create new land management techniques that maintain soil quality and health so soil ecosystem services can be delivered to future generations.”

Research conducted by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows is the core of the department’s research programs. Currently, 117 graduate students, including 53 Ph. Ds and 64 master’s students, several post-doctoral associates, along with 60 undergraduates, support current research activities in the department. For this year’s forum, three faculty members will discuss their findings:

  • Zhenli He, “Nanotechnology Application in Agriculture and Environment”
  • Vimala Nair, “Soil Phosphorus Saturation Ratio for Risk Assessment in Land-use Systems”
  • And Peter Nkedi-Kizza, “Use of the Solvophobic Theory to Predict Extraction Efficiency of Hydrophobic Organic Chemicals from Container Walls and Soils”

Select faculty and several graduate and undergraduate students will also present their research.