Kelly visiting Machu Picchu while working on her Mater’s project at the International Potato Center in Peru in 2014.

Kelly Racette graduated with a Master’s of Science in Agroecology at UF in December 2015, with a thesis entitled “Single-Season and Generational Stress Memories in Crops: Using Primed Acclimation to Impart Drought Tolerance.” While in the Agroecology program, Kelly spent a year working in Lima, Peru with the International Potato Center (CIP). Following her graduation in 2015, Kelly decided to remain at UF to pursue a doctoral degree in the Agronomy department. As part of her doctoral studies, Kelly is spending a semester abroad in the United Kingdom, doing research with collaborators at Harper Adams University.

Prior to enrolling in the Agroecology program, Kelly had little experience in agriculture, having completed her B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy at Duke University, NC. “Growing up in Washington, D.C. and doing my undergraduate studies at Duke, I didn’t know much about agriculture when I arrived at UF – I was definitely a city kid! But I think that is one of the great things about the Agroecology program,” she said, adding, “the way that it is interdisciplinary and internationally-focused allows people from all kinds of backgrounds to be successful.”

Potatoes prior to planting at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru

Kelly’s research in the Agroecology program focuses largely on the management of crops to both increase drought tolerance and improve the efficiency of agricultural water use. At CIP, Kelly studied the effects of a water-saving irrigation management scheme on several varieties of potato. The management scheme, known as primed acclimation, uses short periods of water deficit during the beginning of the crop’s life cycle to harden the plants to future occurrences of drought. Kelly likens primed acclimation to athletic training, explaining that the short period of water deficit is like sports practice or lifting weights to prepare your body for the “big game” that happens later. During this study, she found that each of the potato varieties responded differently to two timings of the primed acclimation strategy. “Essentially, this means we can’t use a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to water management in potato,” she said. “Future research will need to identify the best way to tailor management strategies to individual varieties to get the best quality crop.”

Kelly working with peanuts in the greenhouse at Harper Adams University in the Spring of 2017

Currently, Kelly is looking at another management strategy to improve drought tolerance as a participant in the Agroecology program’s international internship course. In that study, Kelly is working with collaborators at Harper Adams University in Newport, Shropshire, U.K. to determine the effects of film antitranspirants on plant water use during drought. You can read more about Kelly’s work and adventures in the U.K. on our blog here.

 

Of the Agroecology concentration at UF, Kelly says: “The Agroecology program provides a really unique opportunity for students to broaden their horizons. Agriculture doesn’t occur in a bubble. Challenges we face here in Florida are similar to those that are faced in other states, countries, or continents. This program provides a platform for agricultural scientists from all over the world to come together to find solutions to these common problems. I don’t know of any other program that offers that!”