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• Over a period of just a few weeks this spring, peanut research in Georgia took a one-two punch, as budget cuts at the national level forced the elimination of four positions at the National Peanut Research Laboratory and the state’s growers rejected an increased assessment for their commission that would have provided additional funding for research.
A lot of good things
“In politics today, the federal government has been portrayed to be the enemy of the people,” says Koehler. “The government is by no means above reproach, but there’s a lot that’s good about what the government does, and agricultural research is one of those things. Whenever we talk about government dollars being spent that’ll bring the greatest return and serve the most people, then we have to talk about agricultural research.”
Congress has decided that earmarks are a bad thing, he says, but the funds spent for agriculture are some of the best investments being made. “We have the cheapest food in the world, and that’s largely because of the investment we have made in agricultural research.”
While Koehler says he’s in favor of balancing the budget, he says everything should be on the table. “We need to see where we get the best return, and I’m confident agriculture is one of the better ones. Look at varieties alone. This past year, we had one of the hottest summers on record and still made good yields. The money spent on research is well invested. Agriculture is the one sector that kept our economy going during the recession.”
Few private corporations are willing to foot the bill for research that won’t show benefits until 10 years down the road, he says. And while the peanut industry might be successful in preserving its breeding programs, the reality, says Koehler, is that people are being lost, and no one else is doing the work they were doing.
As for the immediate effects of the cuts at the National Peanut Lab, programs like the Irrigator Pro irrigation scheduler could go by the wayside, says Koehler, and work might be discontinued that was aimed at telling growers how new varieties respond to irrigation.
“Irrigator Pro needs to be reworked and adapted for new varieties. We need a physiologist for peanuts. The ironic thing is that it will cost the government more money to move people from the peanut lab to other locations than to simply move the money to the peanut lab,” he says.
In addition to the most recent reductions in research funds, peanut producers also are coping with what could be one of the driest planting seasons on record, says Koehler.
“Right now, peanut product manufacturers are in the process of raising prices to reign in consumption. Peanut acres are down this year, and we can’t even get the crop planted. This could turn out to be the driest May on record. I was told by a broker that a major manufacturer was looking at raising prices by 23 percent to quiet consumption.”