Viticulture Center Helps Invigorate Muscadine Wine Industry

FAMU’s Viticulture Center is famous for its annual Grape Harvest Festival, taking place this Saturday and open to the community (find out more about the day’s festivities here). This year’s festival features celebrity hosts FAMU President Elmira Mangum and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and marks 38 years of operation for the center. While the fun of stomping grapes captures much attention, the science of what goes into making those grapes is what drives the Viticulture Center’s mission. Work at the center is pioneering tastier versions of table and wine grapes derived from native American muscadine grapes, helping to grow Florida’s growing wine industry and to playing a role in improving sustainability of the wine industry globally.

vit vineyardFormally called the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruits Research, it is the only specialized academic center on grape research in the Southeastern US. It is charged with conducting basic and applied research and providing service to promote the development of a viable viticulture industry in Florida. According to the Florida Wine and Grape Growers Association, there are 24 certified wineries in Florida, covering 500 acres, and producing slightly under 2 million gallons of wine.

Research at the site on the eastern fringes of Tallahassee takes place in the 44-acre vineyard and in a set of well-equipped laboratories. Work includes traditional breeding methods for plant selection along with high-tech biotechnology and in-vitro selection, according to director Dr. Violeta Tsolova. A mix of science and art create variations in grapes and wines that are produced, with a surprising range of flavors. Decisions at various points in the production process lead to variations in tastes.

Mr. Matteo Voltarelli, a wine maker from Italy who has brought his expertise to the center, notes that in wine making in particular, good results come “mostly of decisions, timely decisions!”

grapetastingBesides developing new and improved grape cultivars, work at the center includes devising best management practices for Florida grapes and selected small fruit. The Center maintains a “National Clean Plant Center” for grapes by growing native hybrids free of diseases that could harm crops. Twenty-three varieties of economically important hybrid varieties of muscadine and other native grapes are grown and certified to be free of disease.

In addition to breeding efforts, researchers have their eyes on the potential contributions that disease-tolerant native grapes might have to the global wine industry as a whole. Genetic resources from native grapes including muscadines may be incorporated to boost capacity of conventional grapes for resisting disease and adapting to climate change.

studentsViticultureLabAlready the center has drawn international interest from international partners and exchange faculty and students from China, Brazil, France, Israel, Italy, Austria, and Germany. Students from high school through graduate students also receive hands-on science training at the center, working under the tutelage of research scientists in the lab and in the field. In the past five years, 14 graduate and 22 undergraduate student researchers have taken part, making the center a productive locale for boosting STEM education.




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FAMU Hosts Vice Chancellor from Leading Indian Agricultural University

Dr. N. C. Patel, vice chancellor of Anand Agricultural University, Gujarat, India, spent a day at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University meeting with deans, faculty, and officials to discuss how the two universities can collaborate on research and service to advance solutions for sustainable agriculture. The visit was facilitated by the FAMU Sustainability Institute.

FAMU’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Director of the Sustainability Institute Abena Ojetayo said “we are very pleased with this partnership in India, a nation with great promise in sustainable development. These relations help us share expertise and experiences that lead to real impact at home here in Florida and for communities across the ocean.”

“Ultimately we want to see that the people on the globe have sufficient food, energy, and a clean environment. In the context of that, universities play a strong role,” said Dr. Patel.

The universities are exploring establishing student and faculty exchanges and undertaking collaborative research in areas including crop production, soil science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, climate and meteorological sciences, and renewable energy. Patel’s visit is a component of FAMU’s Memorandum of Understanding with India’s National Council for Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Public Leadership (NCCSD) to promote solutions in sustainability, agriculture, climate change, and other STEM areas.

“We are brainstorming to see how we can solve these global issues together,” said Dr. Odemari Mbuya, faculty director of the Sustainability Institute. Dr. Mbuya, along with FAMU Professor Mehboob Sheikh, Ph.D., had just returned from a similar visit to India to various universities, organizations, and farms to give guest lectures and plan collaboration efforts.

The Dean of CAFS, Dr. Robert Taylor, welcomed Dr. Patel warmly. “We’re very sincere about these initiatives we want to develop with you and we are looking forward to what we can do with you.”

In addition to meeting with faculty members from the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Dr. Patel met with University President Dr. Elmira Mangum, Provost Marcella David, Vice President for International Education Dr. William Hyndman, Vice President for Research Dr. Tim Moore, and deans and faculty from other colleges and sschools. Dr. Patel concluded the day’s visit with a tour of the renowned FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruits.


India Partnership Expands Global Action on Climate Smart Agriculture

In November 2014, representatives of Florida A&M’s Sustainability Institute traveled to India to partner with the country’s premier organization for sustainability and climate change. The National Council for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (NCCSD) is an organization founded on facilitating action and implementing activities that are important to sustainable development while mainstreaming agriculture as a mitigation option.

The partnership began at an international conference on climate justice initiatives, where FAMU and NCCSD discovered mutual objectives. This led up to the joint signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between FAMU’s Sustainability Institute and the NCCSD.

Among the signatories of the MOU from the NCCSD is Dr. Kirit Shelat, the organization's executive chairman. Dr. Shelat has been involved in agriculture for more than 40 years, serving as the principal secretary of agriculture and cooperation department under the government of Gujarat, India. During this time he has formulated and implemented related policies, including a focus on benefiting poor families, farmers and entrepreneurs through planning for integrated development.

According to Shelat, during his tenure, Indian agriculture has seen improvements such as a 2%-3% increase in sustainable agriculture growth. Many have also been brought out of poverty, and research has been validated, leading to a rise in productivity. However, there have been inequalities in some areas. “There is unequal growth between agriculture and other sectors like services and manufacturing; the latter have an average growth of 8% - 10%, which is increasing rural and urban divide,” said Shelat.

Furthermore, there is unequal growth between farmers at the local level, even in a village with the same resources. Where one can make profits, the other can fail. “Adverse impacts of climate change pushes even successful farmers back to poverty,” Shelat continued.

FAMU’s collaboration with organizations such as NCCSD promotes the search for solutions together. “Climates do not deal with boundaries, so for big global issues, we need to have global collaboration where scientists from FAMU are working with scientists from Europe, Asia, and Africa,” explains FAMU’s Dr. Odemari Mbuya. 

Mbuya is the faculty director of the Sustainability Institute, director of the Florida Climate Institute at FAMU and the interim director of the Center for Water and Air Quality. He teaches Research Methods/Biostatistics and Plant, Soil and Water Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Food Siences. Dr. Mbuya holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Florida and a Bachelor’s degree in Crop Science from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. His research interest focuses on phytoremediation, water resources (quantity and quality), watershed processes and computer simulation modeling.

According to Mbuya, it is not just for research purposes that FAMU is collaborating with the NCCSD; the cultural exchange is just as important. “We are all one on this planet. We can communicate with India, China, Tanzania, and discuss the interests of United States as they discuss the interests of their country,” Mbuya explained.

This collaboration will allow FAMU to perform several tasks beneficial to Indian agriculture. “FAMU can make available appropriate technology related to Climate Smart Agriculture and Smart City Management for its replication in India,” said Shelat. FAMU will also be associated with its dissemination in other developing countries. FAMU has other MOUs with other universities and organizations abroad including, but not limited to, The University of Rwanda, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences.

In the first phase of work, FAMU may make available technologies that have been developed for salinity resistant crop, saline water use and land management, and bio-technology for agriculture and livestock.

Mbuya expounds on the importance of having a survival strategy in today’s bio-environment. “We need to work together, which is the purpose of these MOUs. We can work with people in these places and have much more control. We want to anticipate adverse effects of current practices, envision how it will be in Florida in 50 years. We should be able to predict so that we can plan.”

The MOU with India’s NCCSD is one facet of Florida A&M University's continuing mission to advance research and teaching targeted at real-world solutions to societal challenges. The Sustainability Institute was created by President Elmira Mangum in particular to advance the research, teaching and application of sustainable solutions at the campus, regional and global level.

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Sustainability at Florida A&M University is about the teaching, research and application of environmental and resource stewardship so people and planet prosper. The Sustainability Institute serves as the hub of all sustainability-related efforts at the university, bringing students, staff, faculty and the community together around creative collaborations.

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