Science focused on policy solutions

By Jack Payne


There’s science that guides your choices – when to water, how to fight pests, and what to give your soil. Then there’s the science of consumers’ choices.

The study of those pocketbook choices is economics. You can see it in action at a social science field day on Feb. 9 at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma. Attendees will be a who’s who of policymakers, but it’s for anyone who can benefit from knowing more about how your customers make decisions.

The second annual Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference sponsored by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences comes to Hillsborough County this year. The UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department held last year’s in Apopka, so it’s a bit of a road show coming to your area.

Many of us in agriculture are familiar with the benefits of a farm-to-school program – fresher, more nutritious food for kids, public spending staying local, and fewer food miles burning fuel and putting wear and tear on our infrastructure. None of that is on a kid’s mind, though, when he’s choosing between pizza and the salad bar in his school cafeteria.

Dr. Jaclyn Kropp of our Food and Resource Economics Department is trying to figure out through economics what every parent tries to figure out through kitchen table negotiations: How to get kids to eat veggies.

She's been researching whether kids will make different lunch choices if they pre-order their meals, for example. Or if seeing on a computer screen that their meal misses a wedge on the diagram prompts them to remedy that. She has also looked at the influence of peers’ lunch choices. Kropp will share at the conference what she’s seen when she peers inside kids’ brains.

Dr. Brandon McFadden, also of the Food and Resource Economics Department, focuses on adults.

We know that people get spooked by the letters “GMO,” even though there’s scientific consensus that such foods are as safe to eat as conventionally produced food. McFadden won’t relitigate that at the conference. He’s more interested in using science to bridge the disconnect.

McFadden has drilled deeper and found different levels of acceptance of agricultural biotechnology depending on how it’s presented. Telling folks that genetic engineering creates plants that tolerate weed killer gets you a whole other response from what you get when you lead with a message that genetic engineering can help keep food production in the United States.

To see McFadden present his conclusions, you can register for the conference here: .

The Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference is an example of UF/IFAS as your go-to source for solutions, no matter what the scientific challenge.

Mostly you know UF/IFAS for solutions to growers’ production problems. There are, of course, consumer challenges, too. And those challenges have their own sciences focused on solutions. That’s why UF/IFAS deploys such a variety of expertise in biological, physical, and social sciences.

We know you’ve got a lot of other choices to make on Feb. 9. So we’ve put together a dynamic lineup of cutting-edge science. It’s not just for wonks. What we hope to do is give you a day of science that nourishes you like broccoli but tastes like pizza.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.