Updated: Apr 29
I write to you with the exciting news that we have a new chair for the UF/IFAS Department of Horticultural Sciences.
Dr. Chris Gunter starts on June 7. I chose him from a very competitive field of finalists for a couple of reasons.
First, he’s got a strong record of collaboration with industry that I’m sure he’ll replicate here. The stakeholder group that interviewed him included Bob Morrissey of the National Watermelon Association. The group was led by FFVA’s Mike Aerts, and its report to me on Gunter concluded: “We Recommend Highly and Without Reservation.”
Gunter’s philosophy is to have growers at the table when research questions are being decided to assure that we are exploring relevant questions and to partner with you in seeking grant funding to do so.
His wide range of vegetable experience at Purdue (before he joined the faculty at North Carolina State) included work in watermelons--variety trials, fertility research and cultural management issues like alternative colors of plastic mulch for enhanced production.
Gunter is a champion for helping growers incorporate technology into their operations, and he’ll seek opportunities to build teams of horticulturalists and engineers to find ways to capitalize on the artificial intelligence initiative at UF.
Among the areas he sees potential for AI to advance the work we do for you is plant breeding. He expects breeders like Geoffrey Meru to work directly with commodity associations and individual growers to understand what traits and characteristics are needed in new varieties to help industry succeed. And Gunter also sees our present team of plant breeders as having a critical role in training the next generation of agricultural scientists.
As an Extension vegetable specialist for the past 20 years, Gunter has organized daylong grower trainings, helped plan growers’ off-season annual meetings and delivered presentations on food safety and other subjects.
Gunter has also walked a mile in Bob Hochmuth’s shoes as a faculty member working in research and Extension serving stakeholders away from the main campus. Thus, Gunter understands the needs of faculty at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center/Suwannee Valley site and other RECs.
And he will not always demand that Hochmuth come to him. Like me, Gunter is committed to getting out of Gainesville and going to where the stakeholders are.
Please invite Gunter—and me—to your farm. I, too, am still in my first year and look forward to meeting many more of you. You can reach out directly to me, to Gunter at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to Bob.
J. Scott Angle