Weeks of visits and tours across Georgia has University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean and Director Sam Pardue excited about the college improving upon the state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture.
Most recently, Pardue trekked across the state on Wednesday, April 20, with UGA Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. The daylong tour stopped in the Georgia cities of Jesup, Screven, Douglas, Doerun and Albany, providing Pardue with an opportunity to meet leaders in the agricultural industry.
“I’m fortunate enough to serve on the CAES Dean’s Advisory Council, so I’ve had the opportunity to interact, from time to time, with Dean Pardue already. I think it’s great that he’s participating in a tour like this, meeting producers in these communities face to face at the onset of his career at the University of Georgia,” said Steven Meeks, who farms tobacco, cotton and peanuts in Wayne County, and helped greet Pardue and Whitten in Jesup on Wednesday morning.
Pardue visited with scientists on the UGA Tifton Campus a week ago and learned about various agricultural topics dealing with animal and dairy science, irrigation and vegetable commodities. Wednesday’s tour allowed Pardue a chance to meet farmers, visit with industry personnel and discuss ways in which CAES can continue to meet the needs of the state’s constituents.
“Tours like today’s give me an opportunity to meet the people who are on the ground, who are the beneficiaries of the research and UGA Cooperative Extension programs that we provide,” Pardue said. “I always say that some of our best products are the young men and women who come through our academic programs, who go out to work for companies and individual enterprises. These visits help me to connect with those folks. It helps to build relationships so that people have the freedom to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, here’s a need that’s not being addressed.’’’
Wednesday’s tour culminated in visits to the Premium Peanut plant in Douglas and the Mobley Gin Co. in Doerun. The stops highlighted two commodities that dominate Georgia’s agricultural landscape. Doerun is located in Colquitt County, the state’s fourth-leading cotton-producing county in 2014, according to the 2014 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, published by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED). Colquitt County netted more than $41.6 million in farm gate value for cotton.
Douglas is located in Coffee County, one of the state’s top peanut-producing counties. Coffee County recorded more than $15.2 million in farm gate value in 2014 for peanuts, according to the CAED.
However, Georgia producers who farm these crops have endured difficult economic times in recent years due to low market prices, especially in cotton. Prices for cotton dropped as low as 57 cents per pound this year, compared to four years ago when it was selling for more than $1 per pound, according to the Georgia Cotton Commission. Pardue heeded the concerns and understands the role that CAES plays in overcoming these challenges.
“We’ll never be able to precisely predict or control the markets, but having expertise in agricultural economics allows us to be better positioned to forecast where the markets are headed and to assist our producers. Hopefully, these forecasts can give the producer an opportunity to adjust their product selection going forward, based upon where we think the market is moving,” Pardue said.
Not only do cotton and peanuts play a leading role in the state’s economy, but so, too, do poultry, peaches, pines and pecans. Georgia has also emerged as the country’s leading producer of blueberries.
Whitten, who also visited with UGA Extension personnel in March in Tifton, Georgia, emphasized that the university has a $4.4 billion annual economic impact on the state and is working to make that figure even higher.
“UGA has a long and proud history of advancing agriculture in Georgia, and Dean Pardue and I have crisscrossed the state to help make sure that our teaching, research and outreach support the needs of Georgia’s largest industry for years to come,” Whitten said.
(By Clint Thompson, news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)