New UF/IFAS economist comes ‘home,’ looks to help harness resources

By Brad Buck
Special to the Immokalee Bulletin

IMMOKALEE — Kim Morgan is coming home, in a manner of speaking.

Morgan graduated from the University of Florida three times. Mostly recently, she began her position as an associate professor of food and resources economics for the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. For now, due to CDC stay-at-home guidelines, Morgan is working for UF/IFAS, albeit from her home in Virginia.

Morgan comes to the Immokalee center after earning tenure at Virginia Tech as an assistant and recently, associate professor of agricultural and applied economics. Before that, she worked as an assistant professor at Mississippi State.

Kelly Morgan (no relation), director of the Southwest Florida REC, is pleased to have Kim Morgan as a new faculty member, saying, “She has years of experience in agribusiness and marketing at two respected universities in the Southeast.”

As the newest member of the SWFREC faculty, Kim Morgan looks forward to investigating issues brought to the attention of scientists at UF/IFAS and partner agencies by agribusiness owners.

“People drive my research and Extension programs,” Morgan said. “Specialty crops are my primary commodity of interest, and I want to look into how changing consumer preferences along with government regulations and policies may influence grower decisions to adopt new production practices.”

She also wants to help farmers use marketing techniques to reduce the costs of navigating the food supply chain directly to consumers.

Not only did Morgan earn degrees from the UF/IFAS animal sciences and food and resource economics departments, she worked as an analyst with the department’s Florida Agricultural Market Research Center. There, she helped find solutions to production, marketing, financial and human risks unique to the agricultural sector.

Now, she’s helping growers in the fertile agricultural area of Southwest Florida.

“SWFREC is located in one of the most unique environments in the country — right in the middle of larger-scale agricultural operations led by stewards of the natural resources that make it possible to produce a wide range of commodities while surrounded by an ever-growing population,” Morgan said. “As an economist, I see it as the most exciting place in the world to study how people, companies and policymakers make decisions that impact local customers and retailers, contribute to global food-supply chains and address the intersection of agricultural, environmental, and residential resource uses.”

A little background on Morgan: Three generations removed from her family’s Midwestern farming roots, she grew up raising and showing Arabian horses. She attended UF, intending to go to veterinary school. She had no idea that food and resources economics was a degree option, nor did she know about UF/IFAS the valuable role of UF/IFAS Extension.

As part of her animal sciences program, she took a course in farm management. In that class, she learned she could apply economics training to understand why people do what they do. With that knowledge, she could offer solutions to help farmers find ways to become profitable, and stay profitable, over the long term.

The same course also required her to connect with the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County office to complete a project, and she was amazed that so much information was freely available to residents.  Her advisor, John Holt, a UF/IFAS food and resource economics professor emeritus, asked her to help educate Ocala horse owners about building a website to market their stock, and “I was hooked.”

Morgan earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, then master’s and doctoral degrees in food and resource economics, also from UF/IFAS CALS.

Now, after working as a faculty member at Mississippi State and Virginia Tech, she’ll work in Immokalee. She looked up the origin of the city’s name, and found it means “your home” in the Mikasuki language spoken by the Miccosukee tribe. That’s how she feels: at home.

“Coming back to Florida, to serve producers and residents, to apply my education and experience, to be a valued member of the SWFREC and FRED is a dream come to life that I am most proud of,” she said.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than
a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty  in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

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