University research, Extension remain invaluable resource for farmers

During a recent Alabama Corn/Wheat Short Course held in the east-central portion of the state, three highly respected and accomplished farmers — two from Alabama and one from Georgia — were asked if they were dissatisfied with the assistance that’s available to them from local, state and national government programs for their farms.

The questioner astutely added that, after all, they are feeding America, and perhaps their opinion on such matters should be sought and valued.

Not surprisingly, these farmers — representing a wide range of age and experience — all agreed their greatest dissatisfaction was with the lack of funding at the state level of agricultural researchers, county agents and Extension specialists.

It’s no secret that such positions have suffered inequitably, especially since the “Great Recession,” lasting from roughly 2007 through 2009, and severe budget slashing at all levels of government.

Jared Darnell, who farms with his father Danny and brother Heath in north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, said research at the university level is another valuable tool that farmers can use to achieve higher yields and profits.

“You take your own research, your neighbor’s research, and research from the university and put it all together to form a plan for where you need to go on your own farm.

“Some industry yield plots are usually ridiculously high compared to what we can actually make on our farm. You have to take it all together and use your common sense, and maybe consider how a particular variety or product will perform in your own field and for the way you farm.

“I think we definitely need to do a better job of funding our scientists and researchers at the university level,” said Darnell.

Thomas Kirkland, a long-time farmer from Alabama’s Wiregrass region, says there is definitely a deficit when it comes to having adequate personnel at universities to conduct research and Extension. He’s an avid supporter and user of the agricultural substation near his farm.

“The bad thing about it is they’re no longer replacing those who retire or move on to private industry, and many times when they do replace them, the replacements might be fresh out of college and lack the years of experience of those who were in place before them,” said Kirkland.

Randy Dowdy, a perennial national corn yield contest winner from southwest Georgia said he was very satisfied with the cooperation he gets from USDA and NRCS.

“We get pretty good support from FSA. But there is a disconnect at the university level. I’m dissatisfied with the funding that’s going to researchers at the universities.

“Private industry is dictating this, and they’re dictating a lot of research. It’s sad to hear that we’ve lost another scientist to private industry. Or, that a researcher has retired, and they’re not going to replace him,” said Dowdy.

Producers can and do conduct research on their own farms, he said, but university-supported researchers are much more scientific and capable in the process.

“I would love to see pressure put on our elected officials through media and farmers to increase funding for research and improve the caliber of information we receive,” said Dowdy, who believes growers desperately need updated fertility research to match the improved genetics being offered.

We all know these assessments are accurate, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope. During the recent Georgia Peanut Farm Show held in Tifton, a highlight of the always-outstanding program was the introduction of a couple of new Extension specialists who are already and who will be working with farmers to help solve problems and increase profitability.

Mark Abney, the UGA Extension entomologist who has been on the job since June, gave an informative presentation on the “top seven” insect pests now causing problems for Georgia peanut producers.

This is an area of peanut production that has been neglected for awhile, and Abney’s enthusiasm and obvious expertise are encouraging.

Also at the show, Wesley Porter was introduced as the new Extension irrigation specialist, serving both Georgia and Alabama on a joint appointment.

With Georgia farmers looking for ways to become more efficient irrigators, and many Alabama producers irrigating for the first time, Porter will stay plenty busy between the two states.

While not all universities have shown a similar dedication to agriculture as the University of Georgia, it’s a good start, and perhaps others will recognize the importance of investing agriculture and follow suit.


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