More than 200 people gathered June 24 for a groundbreaking ceremony that brought new turfgrass research and education facilities on the University of Georgia’s campuses in Griffin, Tifton and Athens one step closer to completion.
Local, state, industry and UGA representatives met on the UGA Griffin campus to officially mark the university’s continued commitment to an industry that provides 87,000 full- and part-time jobs throughout the state.
“Turfgrass is one of Georgia’s largest agricultural commodities, and the future of the turfgrass industry—now valued at nearly $8 billion—is very bright,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “At the heart of the industry’s growth and development lies UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Our turfgrass scientists conduct leading research, provide training to industry professionals and prepare students to be leaders in turfgrass management.”
During the 2014 legislative session, Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly approved $11.5 million for a statewide turfgrass facilities enhancement project. Outdated facilities on UGA’s campuses will be replaced with labs, greenhouses, classrooms and office spaces designed to keep the university at the forefront of turf breeding programs around the nation.
“In business, you’re only as good as your ability to keep ahead of your competitors. In Georgia, our sod growers and turf professionals are fortunate to have a world-class turfgrass program to keep them ahead of our friends and competitors in other states,” said J. Scott Angle, the college’s dean and director. “Much of the past success of our sod and turf industry is a direct result of the many varieties of turfgrass generated here (in Griffin), in Tifton and also in Athens.”
The college has been serving the turfgrass industry for more than 60 years, starting in the 1950s with a warm-season turfgrass breeding program. UGA researchers—known as the Turf Team—continue to develop and evaluate new varieties, searching for those that require less fertilizer and are more drought, disease and pest tolerant. In the college, 10 faculty members focus primarily on turf along with an additional eight researchers who have involvement in turf-related projects.
“Our state has a huge investment in human capital and machinery and equipment in the (turf) industry, and to come down here to what I feel like, in a lot of cases, is the home of the green industry in our state means so much,” said Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), chairman of Georgia’s House Appropriations Committee. Turf, he continued, “is just one of those things that gives enjoyment to everybody.”
Additional ceremony speakers included Tommy Hopkins, regent of the University System of Georgia, and Ken Morrow, president of Sod Atlanta Inc.
Turf developed at UGA has been underfoot on an international scale—at World Cup soccer tournaments and Olympic venues including the upcoming games in Japan—and gracing fields locally, including Sanford Stadium and the UGA practice facilities.
Ultimately, a turf scientist’s work is about building relationships, said Becky Grubbs, a doctoral student in the college’s crop and soil sciences department.
“In turfgrass science, we do not grow food, and we do not grow fiber. We grow human experiences and human connections,” Grubbs explained. “We grow the soccer fields that children play on during the weekends, we grow the football fields that we love to visit every fall, we grow the parks that we spread blankets out on to watch fireworks, we grow the yards that we stand on in our bare feet, and we grow the golf courses that someone’s grandfather plays on every Sunday.
“This university has an impressive and undeniable legacy in growing these experiences.”
For more information on UGA’s turfgrass programs, visit www.GeorgiaTurf.com.