Ann Blount is more proud of making friends than making discoveries. She’s made a lot of both.
The advances include a hand in the development of 76 forage cultivars and germplasms. A few friends, who know her as “Annie,” highlighted her discoveries to successfully make the case for Blount to be named Woman of the Year in Agriculture.
Those friends include Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and Nick Place dean of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
Blount is a forage breeder who has been with UF/IFAS for 30 years at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. Her greatest hit may be UF-Riata, a bahiagrass with a longer growing season.
It’s not only what she has achieved to help Florida ranchers inch closer to a year-round grazing season, but it’s also how she does it. Rancher input is an essential part of her research. If a rancher wonders aloud what would come of crossing two or three cultivars, Blount is off and running in her pickup, traversing the state to find seed for an experiment.
A producer far from Quincy once contacted her to ask if she’d come to take a look at his forage because it looked sick. Blount was passing through late at night, so that’s when she visited. She studied the grass by flashlight, identified the disease, and prescribed a course of action. Then she got back in the truck and kept driving.
Handley will tell you that watching grass grow doesn’t exactly capture widespread fascination. It does capture Blount’s. Producers come to Blount, Handley explains, because of her remarkable passion for pastures.
Having Blount show you her demonstration plots, Handley says, is like having an artist walk you through her gallery or a cowman take you for a ride to show off his herd.
I hear echoes of Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and wheat breeder whose dying words were “Take it to the farmer,” when Blount talks about how she took the research off the center and took it to the end user. That’s you.
Blount says she’s now serving her third generation of producer clients and counts many of them as her close friends.
In his nomination letter, Handley wrote that Blount’s work has helped the cattle industry across the Southeastern United States.
She’ll be presented with the award during the 2019 Florida State Fair in Tampa in February. The recognition of Blount demonstrates the value of UF/IFAS science to Florida agriculture and of the friendships that accrue over a career of working among cattlemen and cattlewomen.
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.