By Clint Thompson
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is offering a new academic program that will enhance students’ knowledge of fertilizer applications and enable them to apply fertilizers more efficiently to their specialty crops. The program is called the UF/IFAS Fertilizer Science and Technology Graduate Certificate. The formal certificate will be available starting in fall 2022.
It will be offered through the UF/IFAS Department of Soil, Water and Ecosystem Sciences. The program is tailored toward students with specific interests in fertilizer management, including fertilizer industry formulators, sales agents, producers, consultants and state regulators. The certificate will not only be available to students but also to growers and other industry stakeholders.
“We’re wanting to expand our training in fertilizer management,” says Kelly Morgan, UF/IFAS professor of soil fertility and water management. “We’re also going to increase our courses to undergraduate students as well as work this into a master’s and Ph.D. program eventually. We also are orienting this toward growers that want to do this on their own time online (nights and weekends) just to improve their training. We’re also looking at fertilizer industry people, state regulators and people that just need more information on use and requirements for fertilizer.”
A main point of emphasis of the program is to enlighten students about certain misunderstandings that exist about fertilizer applications within the agricultural community.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about soil testing, fertilizer recommendations and how to use them,” Morgan says. “We’re going to spend a lot of time on interpreting soil tests, what extractants are, what they do and how to use them to determine recommendations. We’ll also look at use efficiency and how to improve the ability to keep fertilizer in the root zone and improve uptake to avoid leaching and runoff.”
The UF/IFAS Fertilizer Science and Technology Graduate Certificate is a 12-credit-hour online certificate that requires 12 to 18 months to complete. The time for completion depends on the student’s desired work schedule.
Students that possess a bachelor’s degree can apply for the program. It requires four courses to complete. The required courses include environmental nutrient management, soil nutrient diagnostics for ag production, and fertilizer technology, production and use.
Students will earn three credits for each of those courses.
Students must also choose one of the following electives:
• Environmental soil, water and land use
• Soil quality
• Environmental crop nutrition
• Nutrition of horticultural crops
Each of those courses are also worth three credits. If students desire, the certificate could be rolled into a Master of Science degree at a later date. Fertilizer applications are an essential part of specialty crop production every season. Plants require nutrients to grow and produce a crop. Growers can ill-afford to be inefficient in how they utilize their fertilizer applications in an era where input costs have skyrocketed, and other expenses have increased as well. If farmers earn this certificate, they will have developed a better understanding of the fertilizer application process.
“We want to improve the efficiency of using fertilizer, so the growers aren’t applying any more than they have to, especially with costs going up the way they are,” Morgan says.
Students can begin taking courses now to apply them toward completing the certificate.