Jack Payne

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Just by participating in one of our research projects, Farm Bureau members recently gave the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences the highest compliment I can think of.

You trust us.

That’s the takeaway from a recent survey done by the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources, or PIE Center. We’ve often described ourselves as trustworthy, but to my knowledge, we’d never actually measured it.

So in a way, the PIE Center’s work was our way of acting on the old Ronald Reagan dictum, “Trust but verify.” We apply it to our science, and we apply it ourselves.

The PIE Center’s Ricky Telg asked you to rate the trustworthiness of about 20 sources of information, and UF/IFAS came out on top. Not only that, but our strongest competition for trustworthiness is ourselves.

The local UF/IFAS Extension office, UF/IFAS and the PIE Center are three of the top four highest-rated sources. We didn’t specify the other one in the top four, “agricultural specialists,” as UF/IFAS faculty, but many could interpret that as a UF/IFAS function.

After UF/IFAS come federal and state agriculture and natural resource organizations and agencies. On the least trustworthy end of the spectrum were various sources of news media and social media.

Trust is the gold standard when your mission is to provide information. It’s also key to a strong relationship that helps UF/IFAS to help Florida’s production agriculture thrive.

We didn’t do this to produce a feel-good report. We did it because trust is an essential element of good science.

We need to repeatedly prove we’re trustworthy to get the access we need to do trials on your farms. We need it so you will be candid with our Extension agents and researchers. We need it so you’ll support the research agenda we devise to support you.

Our soaring university rankings aren’t in themselves what makes us an authority on solutions to your challenges. Trust is. The ratings and rankings are the result of your trust in us, not the cause of it.

Of course, the job of earning your trust is never done. Instead of just accepting it as a given that you hold us in high esteem, we used scientific surveying methods to quantify and challenge it.

We’ll never stop working to be worthy of the trust you place in us.

When you turn to UF/IFAS, what you’ll hear from us is going to be based on data, observation, experimentation, and science – the best tools we have to establish the truth as we know it. It’s been that way since UF/IFAS was established 54 years ago, and it’s not going to change.

Trust me.

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.