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Peanut research pays dividends for region

Mac Gordon

Mac Gordon

The federal and state governments pay for all sorts of enterprises designed to improve our daily lives, but few offer a better return on investment than agricultural research.

It's not just the potential financial effect on farmers that is so important, but also the basic needs of mankind, which it helps to provide to the people of the world.

There is a discussion ongoing in Georgia over whether peanut farmers should add $1 per ton in assessments to help pay for more scientific study than government currently conducts. Farmers already pay a $2 per ton assessment for peanut marketing and promotion efforts.

I'll not join that specific debate, but I do know about quality agricultural research and the tremendous benefits it offers society.

For more than a dozen years I was privileged to live among some of this country's most honored ag researchers who worked at the famed 5,000-acre Stoneville Experiment Station in the Mississippi Delta. There, about 200 federal and state scientists carrying an assortment of Ph.D. degrees toil daily to improve major field crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans and rice, and to regularly introduce new (and better) varieties of each one.

Among other disciplines, agronomists study soil types to ensure that they are palatable for the various crops and entomologists, aka "bug doctors," investigate the insect world for its effect on these commodities.

Another large group of agricultural engineers is committed to refining the machinery of agriculture required to efficiently plant, cultivate and harvest a crop. Yet other engineers spend their careers at Stoneville at the U.S. Cotton Ginning Laboratory developing more innovative ways of handling the "white gold" after it is collected from the fields.

That's not all: Stoneville researchers brought farm-raised catfish to America's kitchen table -- and gave Mississippi aquaculturists the tools to lead the nation in catfish production. The scientists perform often-agonizing work to make sure that the channel cats are "on flavor" when they leave the ponds and that they are fresh upon arrival in the kitchens of homes and restaurants across this country. (My wife once bet me that I was wrong about where a certain popular Albany-area catfish house got its fish. When I asked, the proprietor promptly answered, "All of our fish come from the Mississippi Delta." I won that bet.)

It appears to me that the vast federal and state laboratories at Dawson, north of Albany, make that community the center of this state's peanut research universe. Of course, when it comes to the growing of peanuts, it would be hard to find a region whose farmers exceed the production in Early, Clay and surrounding counties of Southwest Georgia (not Southeast Alabama, as some claim!). Truly, this area is the Peanut Capital of the World. It is an inarguable fact.

Georgia leads the nation in peanut production. Peanuts are a major economic engine for this locale. They put money in our pockets and smiles on our faces. Blakely shows its appreciation each year with its "Peanut Proud" festival, set this year for Saturday, March 24, on Court Square. Please mark your calendar.

And know that agriculture research made it all possible.

Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.