UF/IFAS MREC Looks for Growth Under New Leadership

Web AdminFlorida, Research

By Clint Thompson

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC) has a new director, and it is a win for Florida’s ornamental horticulture industry.

Rob Gilbert, interim senior vice president at UF/IFAS, talked about the appointment of Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski, previously the associate center director at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

“We’re also thrilled to have Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski start with us at the Florida MREC. She’s going to be familiar with those in the citrus industry. She was the associate center director at Citrus REC in Lake Alfred,” Gilbert said. “She’s hit the ground running as well. She didn’t start officially until Aug. 1, but she was at FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association), strengthening her advisory board at the center and looking at the future of MREC. It’s an interesting center where I think there’s some opportunities for growth there, discussing a long-term strategic plan that helps our ornamental horticulture industry and also helps the center grow. I see her being very involved with our stakeholders in building that vision.”

Robert Gilbert

Ornamental horticulture is a valuable industry in the Apopka, Florida, area and will continue to be thanks to research at the MREC. Faculty are on the cutting edge in research, tied to the ornamental horticulture industry.

Gilbert said breeders are using CRISPR technology to identify genes that control traits that producers and consumers want in ornamental plants. There is also a virtual reality lab that simulates a point-of-sale environment to determine how consumers react to what’s in front of them. There is also research tied to medicinal plants, specifically, industrial hemp.

“It’s a huge industry in Florida. It has a $10 billion impact in the state. When you think of ornamental horticulture, we’re here at the State Fairgrounds, and all of the beautiful, potted plants on stage (at the Citrus Expo), those are from the ornamental horticulture industry. During COVID, the industry expanded as well, as people rediscovered their love for plants,” Gilbert said.