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Peanut growers hoping for enhanced research

Peanut grower David Reed, left, of Dooly County stops by the Bayer CropScience booth and talks with Dick Dowdy, center, and Holly Walker Thursday during the Georgia Peanut Farm Show at the Albany Civic Center.

Peanut grower David Reed, left, of Dooly County stops by the Bayer CropScience booth and talks with Dick Dowdy, center, and Holly Walker Thursday during the Georgia Peanut Farm Show at the Albany Civic Center.

ALBANY — The 36th annual Georgia Peanut Farm Show kicked off Thursday at the Albany Civic Center. While many milled around the Civic Center floor taking a closer look at the red and green tractors, blue harvester and other assorted shiny new tools of the industry, the real work was taking place in a meeting room yards away.

“What we need to do is ask ourselves what are we going to be looking at 10 to 12 years from now?” Georgia Peanut Commission Executive Director Don Koehler ask the gathering of farmers and others in the peanut industry. “We have to invest in research now, and we have to do it ourselves because we cannot depend on the government to do it for us.”

Koehler added to that end, the GPC will be emphasizing enhanced research versus promotion and education over the next several years, hinting that a $1 increase in the current $2 per ton peanut checkoff — bringing it to $3 — is being discussed.

Many of the farmers in the room nodded their approval, especially when told that the increase would be solely devoted to enhancing research.

“Budgets have been cut at all research universities,” said Richard Barber of Ocala, Fla., who was the first chairman of the National Peanut Research Committee and a peanut farmer for 45 years. “Research keeps us ready for the next crisis. I remember in the late ’90s when the Florunner was threatened and Georgia Green saved the peanut crop and a lot of peanut farmers.

“Advance research saved us.”

According to the University of Georgia agriculture website: “Georgia Green is a high-yielding, tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV)-resistant runner-type peanut variety that was released in 1995 by the Georgia Agricultural Experiment Stations.

“It was developed at the University of Georgia, Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia. Georgia Green is highly productive, and has very good stability across many different environments. Year after year, it is hard to beat Georgia Green in overall performance.”

“The way I see it research and technology in agriculture puts the future of the world in our hands,” Barber said. “And the United States is in a unique position to capitalize on that.”

UGA Extension Peanut Agronomist John Beasley agreed.

“The is no doubt that research has been limited because of budget cuts and a lack of funding,” Beasley said. “Right now, we lack an entomologist because we didn’t have to money to replace the one we had after he retired. Right now we depend upon the GPC for our research support.”

Beasley said if the $1 per ton increase in the checkoff were approved and devoted solely to research it would help Georgia’s peanut farmers.

“An increase would help immensely,” Beasley said. “If you consider our budget (for research) right now is around $250,000, and that the state produces between 800,000 and 900,000 tons per year, that dollar would push our budget to over a million dollars per year. Use the original $2 check off for promotion and education.”

So, what is the biggest challenge facing Georgia’s peanut farmers today?

“Water,” Barber answered. “We have conserve and use our water wisely.”

Georgia is the top producing state for peanuts, growing about 48 percent of the nation’s crop each year. In 2010, Georgia produced more than 800,000 tons of peanuts on farms in 70 of the state’s 159 counties, pumping more than $2 billion into the state’s economy.

In all, there are about 4,500 peanut farmers in Georgia, and peanuts are produced to some degree on 14,000 Georgia farms. Peanut Commission officials say there are 200 peanut-related businesses in the state, with 50,000 jobs attributed to the legume.