The University of Georgia began a new effort to help the state's farmers this week when the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences announced the Emerging Crop and Technologies Initiative.
"We are finding it increasingly important to generate new opportunities for Georgia farmers," said Gale Buchanan, CAES dean and director. "This is something we have wanted to do for a number of years. The most recent session of the Georgia General Assembly made funds available for this purpose, and we are committed to taking advantage of this opportunity to develop new crops and value-added technologies that will help make Georgia's agriculture more profitable."
Hudson First Coordinator
The program will be centered in the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) in Tifton, Ga. Randy Hudson, a UGA professor of entomology, will serve as its first coordinator.
"Dr. Hudson has already been intimately involved with emerging enterprises," Buchanan said. "His enthusiasm and desire to develop new crops and technologies will be a valuable asset to this initiative." Hudson will serve as an intermediary between the CAES and private enterprise and both state and federal agencies in commercializing new and emerging crops and technologies.
Emerging crops and potential commercial crops are often a part of CAES research projects already. "But often these are a minor part of the research scientist's overall program," Hudson said. The new initiative is a way to place more emphasis and coordination on these research programs.
Minor Crops Can Have Big Impact
"In some cases, minor crops can have a potentially large impact on the state's agriculture," Hudson said. He cited oilseed and biomass initiatives as examples of areas in which the work of the new program can have a major impact on Georgia agriculture.
The effort would go beyond finding new crops. It would also put together the processing and marketing needed to make them commercially viable. For instance, the oilseed initiative, Hudson said, would help develop a vertically integrated oilseed program that would empower growers beyond the farm gate and allow them to participate in marketing identity-preserved oils and proteins.
Jerry Cherry, CAES associate dean for research, said another such area is in feed grains for Georgia's poultry and livestock. "Pearl millet could have a significant effect statewide," he said. "Millet could replace corn. There's a tremendous market for it."
And while the term "emerging crops" tends to direct thoughts to new plants, Cherry said, "don't think that precludes animal projects." As an example, he said, red deer may have potential in Georgia as a livestock "crop."
New Crops, Added Value
The new initiative will help UGA's chance to discover crops the state doesn't grow now, said Bill Lambert, CAES associate dean for extension. New markets pop up as people from other parts of the world come to Georgia. "But the biggest opportunity," he said, "is adding more value to things we already grow here."
Lambert said Georgia farmers will never get away from growing traditional commodities. "But if you look at the farmers who are doing well," he said, "many have found success with niche crops. The secret is to find more niche markets."
Only time will tell how important the new initiative will be to the state's agriculture and overall economy. "When you work with new technologies and crops, you can't predict their success," Buchanan said. "That's the nature of research. But we can develop means to enhance their ability to be successful. This is not a panacea, but it's certainly one of the ways we can help agriculture continue to be profitable."
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)