Dr. Michael J. Mulvaney
My appointment is 60% research and 40% extension. The main crops of interest in my program include peanut, cotton, corn, soybean, wheat, and carinata. Approximately 80% of agricultural crop production in the western panhandle of Florida is cotton and peanut. Of the total acres harvested in the Florida panhandle in 2012, 43% was cotton, 41% was peanut, 6% was wheat, 5% was corn, and 5% was soybean. Although yield of the main crops, cotton and peanut, are near historical highs in the state, prices for these commodities remain low and input costs typically increase. Fertilizer inputs are one of the highest operational expenses for growers, and also a major source of nutrient loading to Florida waterbodies due to high infiltration rates of the sandy soils found throughout the panhandle of Florida and the Southeast. One strategy to simultaneously reduce farm expenses and improve environmental quality is to improve nutrient use efficiencies of cropping systems.
I have extensive international experience, having worked and traveled in over 50 countries on six continents, most recently as Cropping Systems Agronomist with CIMMYT in Mexico, and before that as the Assistant Program Director for the USAID SANREM CRSP at Virginia Tech.
Nature and Description of Extension Program
My extension program broadly addresses increased sustainability of row cropping systems in the Southeast. My goal as Cropping Systems Specialist centers on the education of stakeholders about improved nutrient management in cropping systems. The program is designed to identify and address knowledge gaps and provide evidence-based information to agents, growers, agricultural professionals, and policymakers to inform decisions related to crop management. Factors that affect nutrient management and cycling, such as irrigation scheduling, rotations, cover cropping and soil management, are an integral part of my program. Content is delivered via face-to-face meetings, websites, smart phone apps, EDIS publications, popular press articles, social media, and grower field days. These are designed to inform and update stakeholders on crop and soil management practices that optimize yield and economic return for crops suitable to the Southeast.
Crop fertility management in the Southeast is unique because generally sandy soils with low nutrient and water holding capacity coupled with intense rain events facilitate rapid nutrient mineralization and movement through soils below the rooting zone. This contributes to nutrient loading in water bodies and affects water quality. The problem is exacerbated by the increased nutrient demand of modern crop cultivars, which has contributed to increased fertilizer use in general. The need for improved nutrient management in the Southeast is critical but problematic in the sandy soils of the region. Indeed, the range of soils, from deep sands in the east to sandy loams in Lower Alabama, necessitates specific crop nutrient management programs related to the differing nutrient and water holding capacities of soils across the region. Indeed, soils in the region may have sufficient levels of nutrients but remain unavailable to crops during peak demand because of insufficient plant available water in the rooting zone, which can result in plant nutrient deficiencies, with concomitant consequences such as disease susceptibility, ultimately resulting in decreased nutrient use efficiency and yield. There is a need for integrated soil fertility management programs that include soil fertility, water management, and cultural practices to improve nutrient use efficiencies in crop production in order to reduce yield penalties and nutrient losses to the environment.
There are several tools and technologies in development or currently available that can assist target audiences with nutrient management decisions, including (but not limited to) PeanutFARM, N calculators, SmartIrrigation apps, traditional soil testing coupled with plant tissue analyses, enhanced efficiency fertilizers, and precision applications over zoned fields. My research program works to improve and validate many of these tools and technologies for southeastern row crop production; these are then demonstrated to stakeholders with the goal of increased adoption of those applications that improve nutrient management of cropping systems in the region.
My program utilizes an integrated approach to address this situation:
- Application of the “4R” concept: Right source, Right rate, Right time, & Right place for conditions specific to southeastern crop production.
- Adoption of cultural practices that improve nutrient management and nutrient cycling, such as improved soil moisture management, rotations, and precision agriculture applications.
While the overarching theme of my research program is to increase the sustainability of cropping systems in the Southeast, the main focus of my program is to develop improved integrated crop fertility management tools and technologies. Much of my work centers on nutrient mineralization and improved nutrient synchronization to increase nutrient use efficiency and reduce losses to the environment. My work incorporates enhanced efficiency fertilizers, improved irrigation strategies that optimize nutrient uptake and yield, precision agriculture applications, crop physiological responses to fertility, and the predictive potential of nutrient status on yield and yield components (such as seed quality in peanut). In cases where emerging crops are of interest, such as sesame and carinata, much of my research is more basic, such as the development of nutrient uptake patterns to identify temporal nutrient demand and sinks.
Although my focus is on crop fertility, my program remains responsive to critical industry needs. This necessitates research on critical topics that affect existing and novel cropping systems for the region, such as disease management, genotype evaluation, basic agronomy, phenology tracking for modeling purposes, precision agriculture applications, and re-calibration of soil test extractants.
Jay Admin Rm. 13
UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center
4253 Experiment Rd., Hwy. 182
Jay, FL 32565