100 Years of Pioneering Possibilities

UGA-Tifton celebrates a century of transformative agricultural research and education

Leadership and adaptability helped Tifton, Georgia, land the Coastal Plain Experiment Station 100 years ago, and these characteristics make the University of Georgia Tifton campus a valued partner in farming operations in Georgia and abroad.

“What we do today is dramatically different than what we did years ago, and that’s because we’re on the leading edge of changes in agriculture,” said Assistant Dean for UGA-Tifton Joe West.

Former UGA-Tifton agricultural engineer James Shepherd designed the combine that enabled peanut farmers to harvest more efficiently, technology that is still used by most modern peanut combines. Researcher Glenn Burton put the campus on the map through his work on pearl millet, which helped feed millions in India and Africa.

UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Professor Peggy Ozias-Akins, a Tifton native, was part of a collaborative effort to sequence the peanut genome in 2014, which helps researchers worldwide produce a more resilient peanut.

These scientists are part of UGA-Tifton’s 100- year history. The campus celebrates its centennial anniversary this year and will commemorate a century of agricultural research built on collaborations by scientists to bolster the outcomes of agriculturists. The work of these scientists took down the boll weevil in the 1990s and greatly lessened the impact of thrips-transmitted tomato spotted wilt virus, kudzu bugs and whiteflies in recent years.

“There’s a huge diversity in scientific training here. That’s a real strength because we put people with different backgrounds on teams to address issues. If you’ve got a disease problem in a crop, it’s most likely not isolated to the crop. It may be transmitted by insects. It may be caused by some soil fertility issue,” West said. “There’s usually not just one simple solution. It’s very complex and challenging.”

Many of these world-renowned scientists are also educators at UGA-Tifton. The hands-on education they provide is often the reason these students enter the workforce upon graduation.

Kelly Paulk (BSA – Agriscience and Environmental Systems, ’18) was introduced to impactful new technology in Professor George Vellidis’ precision agriculture class. “It was all new to me because the farm that I grew up on did not use a lot of the precision ag software that we learned about,” she said. “In my current job, I’m using a lot of the precision ag techniques.” Paulk now works for Southeastern Agricultural Laboratories and Southeastern Crop Consulting as a sales and marketing specialist.

“For years, UGA-Tifton faculty had a strong desire to teach students, but academic programs were not available at the extended campus,” said Vellidis.

Vellidis and Mark Rieger, a former professor in UGA’s Department of Horticulture, led the effort to establish UGA-Tifton’s degree programs. Working with the Tifton faculty, they created a major that didn’t exist anywhere else, met the needs of the agricultural sector and played to the strengths of the campus. With an inaugural class of about 20 students, UGA-Tifton began offering the agriscience and environmental systems major in 2003.

“It was good for me to go to a school locally, around where I farmed. What the professors and researchers taught us has a lot to do with some of the things we face every day," said Russ Griffin (BSA - Agriscience and Environmental Systems '05), a farmer in Tift County, Georgia, and member of UGA-Tifton's first graduating class. "I was glad they got a program in Tifton because I really didn't want to travel that far to Athens, (Georgia)."

A few years later, the campus offered an agricultural education degree, which is now the campus's most popular major.

"The University of Georgia's agricultural education degree program continues to grow in new and exciting ways. We were recently given the opportunity to outfit a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Integration and Research Development Laboratory to develop innovative projects that raise the bar for agricultural education in south Georgia and beyond," said Assistant Professor Ashley Yopp in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at UGA-Tifton. "We're building on the strong roots of our program to cultivate the next generation of scientists and teachers of agriculture."

UGA entomologist David Riley has served as the graduate coordinator of UGA's plant protection and pest management master's degree program (MPPPM) for the past four years. More than 46 MPPPM students have graduated during his tenure.

"These professionals are currently working at seed companies, the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies, the Cooperative Extension Service, and private agricultural companies. The common thread in this group of professionals is their sincere desire to make U.S. agriculture the best in the world," Riley said. "These are fine, dedicated professionals that UGA has had the privilege of training since 1973, when the program was established."

An account of UGA-Tifton's agricultural contributions will be chronicled in a book to be released in spring 2019.

By Clint Thompson

Did you know?

The UGA Tifton campus is a hub for groundbreaking research with global impact. World-renowned scientists conducting agricultural research have called UGA-Tifton home for the past century.

Tifton campus
Photos by Edwin Remsberg