FIU, Walmart Foundation Join Forces to Help Farmers Respond to Changing Climate Conditions

Author  Evelyn S. Gonzalez

MIAMI — FIU is working to help build stronger agricultural systems in the face of climate change. resizeimage 21Florida is the nation’s largest producer of tomatoes, tropical fruits and winter vegetables, and climate change is expected to increase the occurrence and strength of droughts, floods, pest infestations and disease infestations. These effects of climate change can harm farmers, their crops and the country’s food supply.

Florida employs more than 1.5 million people in the agriculture, natural resources and food processing industries. In Miami-Dade County alone, agriculture has a nearly $2.7 billion annual economic impact, according to the South Dade Chamber of Commerce. But, the state’s farmers are working under increasing pressures from environmental regulations, labor welfare regulations, international competition and consumer demand.

With support from The Walmart Foundation, researchers in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education and the College of Business will conduct a thorough assessment of Florida’s tomato and strawberry production systems. They will evaluate the entire supply chain — from farmer to processor, distributor, retailer and consumer — to identify what works, what doesn’t, and why. The research team will offer environmentally sustainable and ethically responsible management strategies to help these industries and their work force adapt to climate change.

“The goal of this project is to develop a blueprint for a food certification program of which all parties across the strawberry and tomato supply chains can agree,” said Mahadev Bhat, project director and co-director of FIU’s Agroecology Program. “The study can improve our understanding of production, environmental and labor welfare issues, as well as competition between domestic and imported crops and the certification process.”

FIU environmental science researchers will assess current crop production practices — including planting and harvest dates, crop rotations, irrigation, fertilizer application and pesticide application — and predict their long-term environmental impacts. They will also identify techniques that will help strawberries and tomatoes adapt to climate change. 

FIU environmental economics and business researchers will interview farmers, farm workers and farm worker service organizations to understand the social, market and regulatory challenges affecting them.
“Through this multidisciplinary effort, we will also interview shippers, wholesalers, retailers and financers to understand socially responsible practices impacting their economic, environmental and social performance,” said Carlos Parra, professor of information systems and business analytics in the College of Business.

The Walmart Foundation is supporting FIU’s research initiatives with nearly $440,000 in funding.
FIU was one of the first universities in the country to receive the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities designation in 2012, which provides funding and research opportunities. The university’s Agroecology Program is dedicated to research, education and outreach with a focus on veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers, migrant workers and minority students.