TIFTON, Ga. -- John Beasley, a peanut agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, was born and raised in peanut-rich Southeast Alabama.
Living in an area surrounded by Early County, Ga., Houston County, Ala., and Henry County, Ala., Beasley, a Columbia, Ala., native, grew up in the heart of three of the top peanut-producing counties in the country. He looks back at his childhood surrounded by peanut farmers as the inspiration for a career, researching peanuts and helping farmers improve their peanut yields.
Now in his 28th year , Beasley recollects what made all of his years in the peanut fields so memorable.
"I tell folks, and this is the honest truth, there's never been a day since I started in this position that I was sorry I had to go work or didn't want to go to work or just said, 'Why am I doing this?'" Beasley said.
"I have loved every day I have done this. It's a great job. It's one of those things you learn something new every day. If I'm not learning something new, then that means I'm not working.?
Seventy-five percent of Beasley's work deals with public service, making sure county agents and farmers are kept abreast of the latest developments within the peanut industry.
"As long as that county agent knows that he's got me and my fellow UGA peanut team members as backup, that's what gives me great pride, to know that one of those guys can call me and we can get the information to the county agent to help that farmer," Beasley said.
According to the 2011 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, peanuts were Georgia's third-most valuable crop behind broilers and cotton, generating $586,414,033. It's a crop that always fascinated Beasley, especially during his collegiate years when he scouted peanuts during the summers while a student at Auburn University.
"You're working with a crop that flowers above ground and produces its fruit below ground," Beasley said. "All summer long you have no idea what kind of yield potential you have unless you pull up some plants. You can drive by a cotton field or a corn field or a soybean field or tobacco patch, you kind of have an idea of the yield potential. You can see what role the environment has on your crop.
"With peanuts, you've got to walk out there, you've got to put your feet in the field and pull up some plants, take a look at them. Even when you pull them up, you can see a bunch of pods but do you know what the yield potential is?"
Beasley's research at UGA has focused on peanut management and competitive production systems that are economically friendly to producers. In an effort to enhance the quality of the peanut product, Beasley's work has also included an evaluation of newly released runner-type cultivars. Beasley expressed pleasure in seeing how far those cultivars have progressed since his arrival in 1985.
"Just seeing in the last few years the yield potential of these new cultivars is just mind blowing. If you just look and see the cultivars we're planting now, there were probably 30, 40, 50 cultivars looked at over the last 20-plus years. In the last five or six, these seven or eight cultivars we have now are just far superior than the cultivars we were growing," Beasley said. "That makes it a lot of fun."
The value of the peanut crop has increased tremendously during the past seven years. In 2006, peanuts generated a Farm Gate Value of $321,334,435. In 2011, the figure reached $586,414,003. While Beasley's experience and expertise have played a key role in the peanut industry over the past two decades, he is quick to deflect the praise. According to Beasley, it's a team effort.
"I would say the best part of my job is the people I work with, my fellow peanut team members, the county agents, our staff in Tifton and at the research and education centers. From the ones I started with to the ones I work with now, they are a great bunch of folks to work with," Beasley said. "That makes it a lot of fun. The county agents we have here at the University of Georgia are just tremendous and are great to work with.
"I would say the most important person to that farmer is the county agent. I'm just there to support the county agent. I'm just one of a handful of fellow co-workers that are fortunate enough to be assigned to work in peanut research and extension."
Clint Thompson is information coordinator for the University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tifton.