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Peanut research can’t fall away

Keeping ahead of the curve is what America has been known for over the years, and even in belt-tightening times we can’t afford to not look years down the road.

That’s particularly true in the area of agriculture. American farmers know what the fields look like now. The question is: What will they look like 10 years from now?

That has peanut growers in our state looking at something they probably would rather not — a bigger assessment. There’s an effort under way to increase the assessment that peanut growers pay on every ton of peanuts they produce. It currently stands at $2 per ton, with the money going to finance educational and promotional efforts that, over the years, have strengthened the commodity’s presence.

Now, there is a suggestion that peanut farmers add another dollar to the assessment, with that dollar per ton earmarked for research on the crop that Georgia produces more of than any other state.

With the recession, research budgets have taken some harsh cutbacks. It’s an appealing target for number crunchers because there’s no immediate return on investment for research. And it’s a tactic that doesn’t hurt much, at least initially. You can shelve research for a year without too much risk. But when it goes into a second year and then a third, the potential for problems can mount. Farmers who have been in the business for a while can remember when tomato spotted wilt virus threatened to decimate Georgia peanut production in the 1990s. University of Georgia researchers, however, had been working on developing a peanut variety, Georgia Green, that was resistant to that virus. Had Georgia growers not been able to take advantage of that new variety, the peanut industry in Georgia would have suffered a terrible blow, one it might still be trying to overcome.

John Beasley, an agronomist with the UGA Extension Service, noted Thursday that the dollar per ton checkoff would take the $250,000 now available for peanut research and add another $800,000 to $900,000 to it.

The peanut is an important crop to Georgia and a critical one to Southwest Georgia’s economy. No one knows when money will loosen up to do the research work necessary to keep the crop healthy when another threat like the tomato virus pops up.

It’s incumbent on those who will benefit from the research to support it. It will keep their crop — the peanut — viable, make local economies stronger and protect the growers’ bottom line.