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Winter 1997

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Winter 97 > Article

The Global Face of Agriculture

With a new millennium just a little more than a thousand days away, it's popular for people to talk about the dawning of a new era - an age of international cooperation and shared research.

But there's nothing new about that era - at least, not in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In agriculture, the era of international research dawned ages ago.

As American as apple pie? The apple is an import. So is rice. The potato. Peppers. In fact, so are most of our fruits, vegetables and grains. Like most Americans, most American crops are immigrants, the product of research with plants brought from other shores.

Georgia has an especially ripe history of international agriculture research. More than a quarter of a millennium ago, in 1732, General James Oglethorpe began America's first agricultural experiment garden in Savannah. This forerunner of modern agricultural experiment stations had a special mission to investigate international plant varieties. Its research led to the cultivation of crops that fueled the colony's economy for generations.

That international research tradition has continued throughout our history, as have the benefits of its successes. A half-century ago, when Dr. Glenn Burton began collecting African Bermuda grasses for research at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, he was planting the seeds in Georgia for the world's first turfgrass industry that today covers lawns, golf courses and athletic fields worldwide.

But international research is not merely a part of Georgia's past. Research is inherently about the future. And if you look at the future of agriculture, you'll see how bright we really can make it.

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has the largest international research program at the university, with total federal funding of nearly $5 million a year. We have formal agreements with 27 colleges and universities worldwide. Of our 260 teaching and research faculty, 106 participate in international work of some kind. Their work takes many forms, but it almost always results in dividends to the scientists, to the university, to Georgia's farmers and to the state's consumers.

Sometimes those benefits are economic; sometimes they come in the form of new knowledge. Usually they encompass both.

We no longer live in a world where we can take for granted America's preeminence in technology, education and manufacturing. One trip to the grocer's produce section provides convincing evidence that many countries have a great deal to offer us. Access to fundamentals such as seed and germplasm for our important food and fiber crops, as well as emerging technologies produced in other countries, are crucial to protecting our quality of life here in America.

To fully understand this, envision how the world will look around the year 2020:

  • The world's population will rise from 5.7 billion to more than 8 billion people.
  • Ninety percent of this growth will take place in developing nations, which means nine out of every 10
    people will live in a developing country.
  • Six of the top 10 economies will be in Southeast Asia and will represent 60 percent of the world's food buyers.

These countries are becoming more affluent. Their people will no longer eat three bowls of rice a day. They are going to want chicken, beef and other products in their diet. As developing nations' food consumption changes from cereal-based to protein-based diets, demands for U.S. food products - such as Georgia's largest export product, poultry - will grow.

Georgia is already an active player in the agricultural export market with more than $760 million of agricultural products exported annually. In the future, it will be critical for us to continue to be competitive - and to find ways to increase our competitiveness - in the international marketplace.

International agriculture programs significantly promote U.S. agricultural exports. In fact, of the 50 largest customers of U.S. farm goods, 43 are countries that formerly received food aid from the United States.

The International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., reports that each dollar invested in agricultural research in developing countries generates $4.39 of additional imports by these countries C $1.06 of that return is in agricultural imports. All of these are compelling reasons to remain on the cutting edge of international agriculture research.

But in addition to the economic advantage we gain through international programs, we have much to gain in technology, genetic resources and ideas. Recently, Australian researchers came to the aid of Georgia farmers when a disease called "blackleg" threatened our state's small but growing number of canola producers.

Australia's willingness to share blackleg-resistant canola varieties restored growers' confidence and helped prevent a major setback to this fledgling industry.

Likewise, research with grasses in Africa and South America revolutionized the beef cattle industry in the American Southeast by providing tough, heat- and drought-tolerant, year-round forage and hay for growing cattle. This research ultimately led to the development of the world's first turfgrasses and an entirely new U.S. industry.

Clearly, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' participation in international activities is vital. We must encourage more faculty and students to take advantage of opportunities to study, teach and conduct research abroad if Georgia is to flourish in the coming era.

Our role in the Office of International Agriculture is to educate our future farmers, business representatives, researchers and teachers so they can lead us in the 21st century. Our graduates must have an international perspective on policy, demographics, trade, economics and environmental issues; they must be able to speak a second, or even a third, language; they must have experienced another culture by studying or living abroad.

This is a tall order, but necessary. Our graduates will be positioned to use these educational tools to secure not only Georgia's successful participation in the international marketplace, but also the United States' leadership role in encouraging economic, agricultural and environmental sustainability around the world.

In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, we are committed to building on our international research tradition.

If past is truly prologue, then Georgia faces a truly spectacular future in agriculture.

For more information, access http://www.uga.edu/caes/.

UGA Regents Professor Edward T. Kanemasu directs the
international agriculture office and has an active research program in the use of remote sensing and geographical information systems in agricultural meteorology.
Kanemasu is also the administrative coordinator for the Peanut and the SANREM (Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management) Collaborative Research Support Programs. These international research programs are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development at approximately $2 million per year.


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