Today, I am in Athens, Georgia, visiting the University of Georgia (UGA) and meeting with university leaders, faculty, and students to learn about the great work being done here to advance agriculture and solve some of our most pressing challenges.
NIFA has a long history of investing in agricultural science, and for much of the research it takes years to see the payoff. I’d like to highlight two projects at the University of Georgia NIFA has funded that are seeing real outcomes today.
Dr. Scott Nesmith, a professor of horticulture at UGA, began receiving funding from USDA in 2001 to develop blueberry cultivars adapted to the South. His work has resulted in new varieties of blueberries that are thriving in Georgia climate and soil. Three of his cultivars, Suzibel, Rebel and Camellia, are popular with growers and individuals. Rebel was bred to be an early crop blueberry whereas Camellia was bred as a late-season blueberry. The best part is Suzibel has a higher yield, on average 25 percent higher than industry standards.
Blueberry production in Georgia has increased from 3,500 acres to more than 20,000 acres over the past 10 years with annual farm gate values easily approaching $254 million. The blueberry has become Georgia’s number one fruit crop, surpassing peaches, and Georgia may well become the number one producer of blueberries in the country this year.
The second project at UGA I would like to highlight was originally supported in 2005 to track the entry of bacteria in poultry into the food chain. Research recently published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that high levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria on the farm corresponded to high levels on carcasses at the processing plant. Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria cause an estimated 1.9 million food-borne illnesses in the United States annually, and poultry is a major source of both.
As UGA professor of food animal and health management Roy Berghaus notes in the study, this has big implications on the methods used to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Most efforts in risk reduction focus on the processing plant, however, the study suggests more efforts to eliminate bacteria on the farm would go a long way in reducing the number of foodborne illnesses we see each year.
As these two projects show, long-term investment in agricultural science goes a long way toward increasing agriculture production and food security and protecting the safety of America’s food supply.