The University of Georgia recently began a new effort to help the state's farmers when the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) announced the Emerging Crop and Technologies Initiative.
"We are finding it increasingly important to generate new opportunities for Georgia farmers," said Gale Buchanan, dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"This is something we have wanted to do for a number of years," he added. "The most recent session of the Georgia General Assembly made funds available for this purpose. And we are committed to taking advantage of this opportunity to develop new crops and value-added technologies."
The program will be centered in the National Environmentally Sound Product Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) in Tifton, Ga. Randy Hudson, a UGA professor of entomology, will serve as its first coordinator.
"Randy Hudson has already been intimately involved with emerging enterprises," Buchanan said. "His enthusiasm and desire to develop new crops and technologies will be a valuable asset to this initiative."
Hudson will serve as an intermediary between the CAES and private enterprise and both state and federal agencies in commercializing new and emerging crops and technologies.
Emerging crops and potential commercial crops are often involved in CAES research projects already.
"But often these are a minor part of the research scientist's overall program. The new initiative is a way to place more emphasis and coordination on these research programs," Hudson said.
"In some cases, minor crops can have a potentially large impact on the state's agriculture," he added.
He cited oilseed and biomass initiatives as examples of areas in which the work of the new program can have a major impact on Georgia agriculture.
The effort would go beyond finding new crops. It would also put together the processing and marketing needed to make them commercially viable.
The oilseed initiative, Hudson said, would help develop a vertically integrated oilseed program that would empower growers beyond the farm gate and allow them to participate in marketing identity-preserved oils and proteins.
Jerry Cherry, CAES associate dean for research, said another such area is in feed grains for Georgia's poultry and livestock.
"Pearl millet could have a significant effect statewide. Millet could replace corn. There's a tremendous market for it," Cherry said.
And while the term "emerging crops" tends to direct thoughts to new plants, Cherry said, "don't think that precludes animal projects." As an example, he said, red deer may have potential in Georgia as a livestock "crop."
The new initiative will help UGA's chances to discover crops the state doesn't grow now, said Bill Lambert, CAES associate dean for Extension.
New markets pop up as people from other parts of the world come to Georgia. "But the biggest opportunity is adding more value to things we already grow here," Lambert said.
He said Georgia farmers will never get away from growing traditional commodities. "But if you look at the farmers who are doing well, many have found success with niche crops. The secret is to find more niche markets," he added.
Only time will tell how important the new initiative will be to the state's agriculture and overall economy.