Agriculture Awareness and Appreciation Award

Wael Elwakil
Extension Agent II, Fruit & Vegetable Production
UF/IFAS Extension, Hillsborough County

Elwakil, W.*1, , Collins, A.2, , Kirby, C.3, , Hickey4, , Snodgrass, C.A.5,
1 Extension Agent II, Commercial Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, Palmetto, FL, 34221
2 Extension Agent II - Multi County, Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Extension & Sea Grant, Palmetto, FL, 34221
3 Extension Agent III, Livestock, UF/IFAS Extension, Palmetto, FL, 34221
4 Extension Agent II, Sustainable Ag & Food Systems, UF/IFAS Extension, Palmetto, FL, 34221
5 CED & Extension Agent III, Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension, Palmetto, FL, 34221

In an ever-changing world, agriculturalists adapt to meet the needs of communities and provide some of the planet's most essential services. UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant joined forces to highlight the local agriculture production of Manatee County which is among the highest in the state of Florida with over 192,630 acres in agriculture production. Commercial ornamental horticulture production is valued at over $41 million, while livestock production is valued at over $36 million, and wild seafood landings with over 10 million pounds annually valued at over $11 million, in addition to aquaculture production. This three-part docuseries objective was to promote local Florida agriculture during Manatee County's first-ever Virtual Ag Tour to raise public ag awareness featuring six different agriculture producers with unique production styles. In this documentary, we learned about production practices, best management practices, and integrated pest management, environmental conservation efforts, as well as the challenges and COVID-19 pandemic impacts on these businesses. Docuseries part 1 highlighted two ornamental horticulture growers. Docuseries part 2 focused on two of the largest conservation ranches and their very diverse production systems. Docuseries part 3 featured local working waterfronts and focused on some of the region’s most important commercial fisheries production - including wild capture seafood as well as bivalve shellfish aquaculture. As a result of attending this virtual tour and a follow up online growers’ discussion panel via zoom, 73% of survey respondents indicated they were more likely to seek out local producers and 100% of survey respondents indicated that they had a greater awareness of local agriculture production within the region. Though only a small number participated in the actual event (n=36), the videos are available online and are promoted continually to reach a larger audience. Although virtual events are met with hesitation from some stakeholder groups, the past 12 months have underscored the value of online resources from Extension professionals. This video provides a foundation for future programming efforts to highlight sustainable agriculture, and we plan to utilize various online platforms as an opportunity to enhance our reach raising awareness about some of Florida's most important commodities.