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Congressional staffers tour UGA Tifton campus

Craig Kvien, a professor on the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus, talks about the Future Farmstead project with a Congressional staffers and Beverly Sparks, UGA associate dean for Extension, during the staffers’ Sept. 20 visit to the campus. (Special photo)

Craig Kvien, a professor on the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus, talks about the Future Farmstead project with a Congressional staffers and Beverly Sparks, UGA associate dean for Extension, during the staffers’ Sept. 20 visit to the campus. (Special photo)

TIFTON — A group of representatives from key Washington offices toured the University of Georgia Tifton campus recently to hear firsthand from College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ top scientists about research being conducted and exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

“This is very important to us,” said Joe West, assistant dean for the Tifton campus. “This keeps them abreast of some of the issues facing farmers every day, and they are crucial to funding the support of the programs that support farmers. They can’t develop policy and they can’t develop funding unless they have a clear understanding of what the issues are and what the needs of our scientists as researchers are.”

The group consisted of Chase Cannon from U.S. Rep. Austin Scott’s office; Andrew Dill, the UGA director of federal relations; Bob Redding of the Redding Firm, which represents several organizations in Washington; Michael Reed from Rep. Sanford Bishop’s office; and Beverly Sparks, associate dean for UGA Extension.

“Rather than having to spend every day trying to talk to members of Congress and our own senators about understanding the importance of the University of Georgia and particularly in agriculture, I think to hear the stories and understand what our researchers are doing, and to understand the complete intelligence that’s involved in Tifton and how it’s benefiting companies in the region, across the country and around the world is an advantage for us,” Dill said. “It helps to have a first-hand knowledge of what’s happening here in Georgia, and right here in south Georgia, and be able to express that to our policy makers in Washington.”

The stop in Tifton began with a tour of the college’s Future Farmstead project. Craig Kvien, a professor at the Tifton campus who helpedstart the Future Farmstead, described the innovations being used to construct the facility. UGA public service associate Gary Hawkins and Calvin Perry, the superintendent at the Stripling Irrigation Park in Camilla, told the group about the unique ways water resources are being conserved to help save farmers money and increase efficiency. UGA researcher Peggy Ozias-Akins and USDA scientist Corley Holbrook discussed their research on peanut genetics, which could improve peanut production.

After lunch, the group learned about pigweed effects on cotton production from UGA weed scientist Stanley Culpepper and finished with a visit to the Tifton campus’ turfgrass plots, where they heard from turfgrass specialist Brian Schwartz.

“(Congressmen) are our funding partners,” Sparks said. “They supply part of the funding for us, so if they can see the impact of what their support does and how it helps fund our programs and expand and leverage thedollars that we get at the state and local levels, then I think they have amuch better appreciation of where those dollars are going and how they’re impacting their constituents back at home.”

Dill added that with the economy still rebounding and budgets still tight, funding for research is still tough to find. But seeing the progress being made at the UGA Tifton Campus reinforces the notion that research is the key to innovation.

“I think we tend to look at the applied stuff and that’s what we tend to talk about,” he said. “But we have to understand that to get to the applied, there’s a lot of prep work and a lot of work that goes into getting there. So I think you have to have a good balance for the research that we’re doing between basic and applied. We understand that funding is tight, but that this work is important. It’s important to the university, but it’s also important to the state’s economy and the national economy going forward.”

West said he believes the trip, albeit a brief one, was successful.

“Scientists here at the UGA Tifton Campus and in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in general are world class,” he said. “They’re the people that write the textbooks. They’re the people that create the new information. We’ve got some of the best in country, and it shows. So it really blows away our representatives and our Congressional liaisons because we are the best. We are the land-grant institution, and we’re all here to do the same thing — serving the people of Georgia.”