Published on 06/24/96

Ag Showcase '96 Displays Brave New Farm World

With a visit to Ag Showcase '96 June 29 in Tifton, Ga., anyone can learn about farming. Even farmers.

Scientists with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences planned and planted crops to show how farming is moving into the 21st century.

Consumers, students and farmers can see just how far agriculture has come and how research and technology keep changing Georgia-grown crops.

Today's farmers use satellites, computers and bioengineering to get better crops and bigger yields than ever before.

In 1994, each U.S. farmer grew enough crops to feed and clothe 129 people here and abroad. That's up by more than 100 people since the 1960s. Farmers are learning to work smarter.

"Technology and precision farming help farmers produce food and fiber more efficiently," said Rich Baird, a UGA plant pathologist.

Baird and John Woodruff, an Extension Service agronomist, worked together with more than 30 colleagues. They prepared fields for Showcase guests to explore near the Rural Development Center in Tifton.

CAES scientists often team up to find better ways to grow crops. What they learn gets out to farmers through the Extension Service and to students in agricultural colleges. In the end, they help improve farming and the food and fiber farmers get to consumers.

"We're learning more about each other and how to help each other, as well as teaching Georgians about the new developments and ideas in crop production," Baird said.

These teams work to bring new varieties into Georgia, breed insect- and disease-resistant plants or devise control plans that improve crops without harming the environment.

One example growing at the Showcase farm is crimson clover. "It helps in several ways," Baird said. "It covers the ground and keeps soil in place. It's a legume, so it fixes nitrogen into the soil, so farmers may not need to apply as much in other forms. And it attracts beneficial insects that control harmful insects."

Showcase crops include peanuts, corn, cotton, peppers, eggplant, watermelons, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupes, strawberries, kenaf, millet and soybeans.

Woodruff said visitors will see new crops as well as better old crops and better ways to grow them. The Showcase fields will show how varieties differ and how lime alters the soil pH. They'll have everything from weed control to genetically engineered disease prevention to biological insect control.

New farm equipment will be there, too. Baird said computers are showing farmers where they can cut crop costs to improve their profits.

Computer records of yields, pest damage or moisture levels can provide maps of farmers' fields. This saves the farmer from applying costly chemicals where they're not needed. Instead of spraying an entire 50-acre field, he may need to spray only 10 acres.

"When some chemicals cost $30 an acre and up, that's a big savings," Baird said. It helps the environment, too, he said.

Part of looking ahead requires seeing where you've been. Woodruff said some soybean and cotton plots show a living history. They reveal what these crops were once like and how much growing them has changed.

"We're growing plants that have been cultivated since the turn of the century," he said. "And we're growing them right beside varieties released in the last year or two.

"We're all making progress together," he said. ANew crops and production methods improve profit opportunities for farmers. And they improve the quality consumers want."