Published on 08/10/17

New UGA faculty get hands-on lessons in agriculture on annual New Faculty Tour

By Clint Thompson

Agriculture — Georgia’s top industry — was featured prominently this week at stops on the University of Georgia Griffin and Tifton campuses during the university’s annual New Faculty Tour.

The tour, which introduces new UGA faculty members to economic mainstays throughout the state during a five-day trip, visited the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (FoodPIC) at UGA-Griffin on Wednesday. On Thursday, the tour stopped at UGA-Tifton, where faculty visited the energy-efficient Future Farmstead home and learned about peanut breeding and dairy research.

“We are very happy the New Faculty Tour made a stop at the Griffin campus this year,” said Lew Hunnicutt, assistant provost and UGA-Griffin director. “They had a great tour and a great meal, and I think they left impressed with what we offer at the Griffin campus.”

FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey led the group through the center, where UGA faculty members help food entrepreneurs with product development, packaging, food safety, consumer acceptance and marketing. FoodPIC personnel have worked on improved drying technologies for Georgia’s rabbiteye blueberries, frozen desserts made with Georgia-grown fruits and a grain-based milk beverage that's now being produced in California.

Kealey also reflected on his time on the New Faculty Tour two years ago.

“It was the best week I could’ve spent getting to know what happens in Georgia and who the economic leaders in our state are,” Kealey said. “I know this week will benefit these new faculty the same way it did for me.”

In terms of Georgia agricultural production, which totaled $13.8 billion in farm gate value in 2015, UGA-Tifton is an important stop on the tour every year, said Joe West, assistant dean for UGA-Tifton.

“What makes Georgia agriculture unique is its diversity,” West said. “Multiple commodities dominate the agricultural landscape, and I’m glad we are able to showcase a few of those.”

At UGA-Tifton, the group toured the Future Farmstead, an energy-efficient home, and learned about the technology behind it from UGA scientist Craig Kvien. UGA precision agriculture specialist George Vellidis talked to the tour group about water resource management, specifically irrigation efficiency. Corley Holbrook, U.S. Department of Agriculture supervisory research geneticist, and Juliet Chu, UGA research professional, discussed how genetics can increase peanut yields.

As is the case every year, a visit to the campus dairy was the highlight of Thursday morning. Tour participants fed the calves and learned about dairy research from UGA animal and dairy scientists John Bernard and Sha Tao.

“It is important for these new faculty members to learn about the importance of agriculture to the state and the many ways the University of Georgia is helping Georgia farmers sustain their operations,” said UGA Interim Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Laura Meadows. “Most of the faculty members on the tour are new to Georgia, many are new to the South, and they need to understand the major drivers of the economy here.”

The UGA-Tifton and UGA-Griffin stops are two of almost 20 Georgia locations that the tour will visit by week’s end. Other stops included the Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega and Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville on Monday; the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta on Tuesday; and the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins and Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth on Wednesday.

Following the stop in Tifton, the New Faculty Tour schedule included visits to the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross; Gulfstream Aerospace, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and Wormsloe Historic Site in Savannah; Georgia Ports Authority in Garden City; and Washington County, where new faculty learned about the Archway Partnership, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the kaolin industry.

The UGA New Faculty Tour started in 1977. In 40 years, more than 1,400 UGA faculty have gone on the tour, which has been held for all but seven years since its inception. Tours were canceled in 1991, 2003, 2004, and from 2009 to 2012 due to budget constraints.

The tour is coordinated by the UGA Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and is made possible by major support from the UGA Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. The tour also receives support from the UGA Alumni Association and numerous other units and university supporters. 

Clint Thompson is an agriculture writer based in Tifton, Georgia.

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