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MEDIA NEWSWIRE

Crops Looking Good Down on Olympic 'Farm'

In early July, construction workers and volunteers from across Georgia were toiling in the heat of downtown Atlanta. Fighting a looming deadline, they were building the structure that will house the Showcase of Southern Agriculture in Centennial Olympic Park.

Gathered under a tiny shade tree away from the hammering and sawing were agricultural specialists from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Fort Valley State University.

They were part of Georgia Agriculture 96, a group formed to showcase agriculture during the Olympics. Their task, turning the red dirt and gravel-filled dust into a lush garden of row crops, seemed much harder than the builders'.

"We're going to get it done," said John Beasley, a UGA Extension Service agronomist and committee chair.

Getting it done meant bringing in crops and trees in containers from greenhouses in Tifton, Fort Valley and Griffin.

"It was a challenge to get all these crops to grow in containers," Beasley said. "We had to experiment with the fertilizer and water requirements. Growing crops in containers is just atypical."

Thanks to the committee specialists' outstanding work, the plants made the move July 8-11 to be ready for the public opening of Centennial Olympic Park July 13.

"They will stay in the containers that have a mix of peat moss and soil from the field," Beasley said. "That was one of the requirements, rather than putting them into that hard clay ground in downtown Atlanta."

The containers were placed in beds and buried with mulch so the crops and trees appear to be planted.

"We would have a zero survival rate any other way," Beasley said.

Olympic visitors will soon know why there are no peach trees on Peachtree Street.

"Peach trees aren't used to the reflective heat from all the concrete downtown," Beasley said. "It's really tough on them. The apple trees are doing OK, though."

A UGA Extension Service engineer designed an irrigation system to help the specialists maintain the crops.

"We will have a trickle-irrigation system with a manual valve so if one group of plants is under more stress than others, we can send water to just that group," Beasley said.

The committee planned the crop layout to take advantage of shade from nearby buildings, too.

"We tried to position them around the barn structure based on their sensitivity to sunlight," Beasley said. "We moved peach trees to the northeast side so they get morning sun and not as much direct afternoon sun."

The biggest concern is heat stress on the plants. But the visitors could add a problem.

"We're going to have some cotton plants with full bolls on them," Beasley said. "The visitors may pick them clean the first day, so we have to have replacement plants."

Another factor could be insect and disease problems.

"We don't know of any insect or disease problems that may occur in that area," Beasley said. "But there are some turf and ornamentals in the park. They may have insects that will feed on the plants."

This learning experience for the growers should prove a learning experience for the visitors, too.

"We want to give visitors as good a look at the crops at a mature stage of growth as possible," Beasley said.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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