Peaches are Just the Beginning
The next stop on our land-grant university tour takes us south from New England and keeps us on the east coast. You know when a state’s nickname is the Peach State that it takes its agricultural production seriously. There is certainly no shortage of diversification when it comes to Georgia’s agricultural landscape either. As far as field crops go, it is the top producer of peanuts ($556 million) and the number two producer of cotton ($804 million) in the U.S. It is also a major player when it comes to specialty crops. In 2019, it was number two in the country for pecan ($137 million) and watermelon ($101 million) production and number three for bell peppers ($54 million), blueberries ($133 million), cucumbers ($26 million), and peaches ($38 million). All told, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports that Georgia generated $8.44 billion in cash receipts in 2019, ranking it 16th in the U.S. across all agricultural commodities, including livestock and related products.
Founded in 1788, Georgia is the fourth state admitted to the U.S. and home to two land-grant universities: the University of Georgia (UGA) founded in 1785 and Fort Valley State University (FVSU) founded in 1895. A historically black university, FVSU is designated as an 1890 institution. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on UGA’s plant breeding and variety trial activities.
Georgia’s Integrated Cultivar Release System (GCIRS) reflects the significant footprint and output of the University of Georgia’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Genomics (IPBGG). Over the years the institute has released new varieties for forage, blueberries, muscadine grapes (more than 30 varieties since 1909), ornamentals, peanuts, pecans, rye, soybeans, turfgrass, and wheat. The need for regionally-adapted varieties is illustrated by the Institute’s breeding efforts for soybeans and wheat in particular. In the case of soybeans, Georgia produces approximately 1/10,000th of the total number of bushels in the U.S. Meanwhile, Georgia wheat represents about 0.15 percent of the U.S. total by volume and value. Thus, while production of a particular commodity can be a good indicator of what kind breeding investments are made by a university, it is good to remember that such a correlation may not necessarily exist or be obvious.
The University of Georgia’s Statewide Variety Testing (SVT) program annually evaluates public field crop varieties developed both by IPBGG as well as other land-grant breeding programs in addition to proprietary varieties developed by seed companies. The SVT program tests a substantial number of commodities and varieties within each commodity. Crops are divided into “winter” and “summer” with winter crops consisting of mostly small grains. Summer crops include: corn, cotton, millet, peanuts, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower, and tobacco. In some cases, crops such as sunflowers, are not tested each year. Although not part of the SVT program, UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) also has a robust variety trial program encompassing many fruits and vegetables from bell peppers to watermelon and even pecans.