UGA Researchers Use Team Approach to Overcome Budget Cuts

Barbara Kieker

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

The state budget for research in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been cut by about 25 percent over the last three years. Because of the cuts, the college lost 40 research faculty and 99 staff positions mostly through retirement and attrition. This year Dr. Robert N. Shulstad, CAES associate dean for research, expects cuts of 6 to 16 percent in the college’s federal formula funds and competitive funds for research.

“With the budget situation, we have to downsize our research programs. In many cases both faculty and staff have moved from addressing concerns of one particular crop to addressing parallel problems in many crops. We’ve taken a team approach so that our pathologists, entomologists, weed scientists, engineers and economists work across a variety of crops assisting agronomists and horticulturalists, who generally have a higher degree of crop specialization,” Shulstad said.

“We’ve also become much more aggressive in finding external funding sources and competing for federal and private funds.  While we have been successful securing those funds, the total amount of available federal competitive grant funding is being drastically reduced.”

The CAES plant breeding programs have been very successful in creating new crop varieties that are in high demand because they require less water and fewer pesticides, are disease-resistant, and produce higher yields. Many of the college’s new turf varieties are more desirable for golf fairways and greens, and some are better suited for sports fields or lawns.

“Blueberries, pecans, peaches, forages, non-invasive bioenergy grasses and ornamentals round out our portfolio,” Shulstad said. “While blueberries, turf and ornamentals are growing markets, peanuts and soybeans still produce the lion’s share of royalty funds.”

Royalty funds from the release of patented varieties are an important source of income to keep the CAES program viable and allow UGA to be the leading public plant-breeding program in the nation. Over half of all royalty revenue for UGA comes from plants.

The college’s research programs also receive funding from Georgia producers. A portion of the sales price of many crops goes to commodity organizations to fund research. A producer committee helps prioritize and select the specific research programs to be funded.

“Most Georgia farmers are very familiar with what we do. With their input and support, we are able to stay on the cutting edge of problems affecting yield, profitability and their long-term success,” Shulstad continued.

Production agricultural research is conducted at eight college-run Research and Education Centers across the state, as well as campus-based farms and research labs, to assure direct applicability to Georgia growing conditions.

CAES poultry and animal science researchers are pursuing similar goals. Increasing feed efficiency, decreasing disease, increasing the quality of meat products and minimizing the environmental impacts of the production process will help Georgia remain the leading poultry producing state and support the beef and dairy industries.

Working as a team with corporations, universities and government
The college’s researchers work in partnership with corporations, as well as scientists at other universities and the federal government. According to Shulstad, teamwork has produced positive results, including a rapidly increasing portfolio of improved plant varieties and shorter breeding cycle times, even as the research budget has decreased.

UGA CAES is currently working with 17 other universities on the Phytophthora sojae fungus, which can destroy soybean and vegetable crops. Researchers from UGA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working on a new technology to breed chickens resistant to the Newcastle virus with funding from the Gates Foundation. Other projects include efforts to address the pigweed resistance issue and find a replacement for methyl bromide, which is being deregulated as a pesticide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tackling whole farm management
Beyond developing improved plant and animal varieties, researchers examine production methods to help drive higher yields, improve product quality and profitability.

“At the Stripling Research Park in Camilla, we’re testing overhead irrigation and variable rate irrigation that applies only the amount of water that is needed for a specific plant and the localized soil condition. We’re working to expand drip irrigation techniques to crops like cotton and improve its use for vegetables,” Shulstad explained.

In other efforts, UGA CAES is working to expand the crops available to Georgia farmers. A good example is in the biofuels industry where researchers are working to develop non-invasive Miscanthus and other potential biofuel sources in Georgia.

This article has addressed primarily production agriculture issues. Future articles will address research to minimize on-farm energy use, improve post-harvest handling, processing, new food product development and food safety, as well as the biomedical and environmental applications of UGA CAES research programs.

More information on the research programs at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences can be found at www.caes.uga.edu/research or contact Associate Dean for Research Robert Shulstad at shulstad@uga.edu.

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

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