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Urban Agriculture is state's third largest ag commodity

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

After growing up on a farm where he was taught to kill grass, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue says he's had to learn to embrace events that encourage people to grow and maintain grasses.

"I still have a little difficulty adjusting to the context of this kind of event," said Perdue as he welcomed more than 800 turfgrass professionals to the University of Georgia Turfgrass Field Day today.

"I grew up on a farm in Houston County," Perdue said. "And I spent all of my formative years trying to kill grass. And here y'all are trying to grow it and spread it."

Held on the UGA campus in Griffin, Ga., the field day provides UGA scientists an outlet to share research-based information with members of the turf industry and homeowners.

"Today we're seeing the science behind the growth this industry has brought to Georgia," Perdue said. "It takes good basic research behind breeding new varieties of turfgrass to make our state even more beautiful."

As the population of Georgia continues to grow, the governor emphasized the importance of keeping the state beautiful.

"You don't hear people say they want to retire to the north," he said. "They are coming to our state, and they are going to keep on coming. We know the pressure this puts on our state and on our environment and our landscapes, and we need dedicated professionals like the ones here today to help us maintain the beauty of our state."

The UGA Turfgrass Field Day primarily attracts professionals from the turf industry: landscape professionals, golf course superintendents and sod producers.

"Field days like this one are designed as educational outreach efforts and this one focuses on improving knowledge of turfgrass practices," said Clint Waltz, a UGA Extension Service turfgrass specialist.

"Our goal is to educate the public on how to manage their turf grass, whether it's on a golf course, park or front lawn, while positively impacting the environment," Waltz said.

Behind the broiler and cotton industries, the urban agriculture industry ranks third in Georgia list of money-making commodities. The 2003 Farm Gate Value for turf grass in Georgia exceeded $151 million and accounted for more than 47,000 acres of the state's production land.

Georgia's 650 golf courses and related businesses employ more than 20,000 people and contribute more than $2.7 billion to the state's economy.

The governor concluded his field-day welcome by saying he's a firsthand tester of new turfgrass varieties bred by researchers with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"We're demonstrating some of the new turfs, the new Bermuda hybrids, on the lawn of the mansion in Atlanta," he said. "I'm looking forward to driving the city folks around and letting them see it."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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