Angle's Letter: Identifying Leaders in the Field

Among the most important things I’ll do as head of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is identify leaders who make a great impact on Florida agriculture. When I got to hire my first department chair, I discovered two leaders. One was the guy who got the job, Chris Gunter. The second was Brittany Lee.

As my first major hire, the Horticultural Sciences search was important not just for whom we hired but for how we did it—with Brittany’s participation on the stakeholder committee. I relied heavily upon stakeholder insights and their understanding of the industry’s research needs to inform my decision.

The stakeholder committee delivered the most persuasive six words about Gunter among the dozens of messages I received: “We recommend highly and without reservation.”

Perhaps the first thing you need to know about Gunter is that he’s Patricio Muñoz’s supervisor. The new chair has a huge task ahead of him. How does he improve a horticulture team that already has a top-10-in-the-world ranking? 

Gunter inherits a department (well led by Jackie Burns on an interim basis while we searched for a permanent chair) that is somehow still on the rise. Just this year we broke ground on a new blueberry lab, built a new on-campus greenhouse for our horticulturalists and cut the ribbon on 15 new growth chambers they will share with several other departments.

Horticultural Sciences is among the departments cooperating to launch a plant breeding Ph.D. program in the fall. Patricio is among those who will have one of the seven students in our inaugural cohort.

I’m not done with Brittany and other blueberry industry representatives. I’m counting on them to keep Chris and me abreast of the FBGA’s research agenda. I met Leonard Park during a recent visit to the Pasco County Extension office and will likely tap him for continuing feedback as well. 

We’ll want to know what Brittany and Leonard think as Gunter seeks to build teams of horticulturalists and engineers to capitalize on the artificial intelligence (AI) initiative at UF. Their input will also help our team of plant breeders identify the most important traits in new varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Please invite Gunter—and me—to your farm. I am just finishing my first year and look forward to meeting many more of you. You can reach out directly to me or to Gunter at [email protected].

J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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