HEADLAND, Ala.—U.S. Rep. Martha Roby from Alabama’s Second Congressional District met Alabama Extension and Auburn University scientists at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in Headland Tuesday, Aug. 15.
Rep. Roby said the tour emphasized the importance of agriculture in the district, which spreads from Houston County in the south to Montgomery on its northern edge.
“As we prepare to begin the next rewrite of the Farm Bill, it’s important for me to continue my relationship both with Auburn University and the farmers in the Wiregrass to understand the challenges that the farm community faces,” said Rep. Roby.
Agriculture is Big Business in Wiregrass
Alabama Extension Director Dr. Gary Lemme said that agriculture, forestry and related industries are key economic drivers of the area.
“In this region, more than 34,000 people are employed in agriculture- and forestry-related jobs,” said Lemme. “This sector generates $7.9 billion in economic activity—almost 15 percent of the district’s total.
“Today was a great opportunity for Extension and Auburn University scientists to highlight their work and explain to Rep. Roby what they do,” added Lemme.
Rep. Roby heard from scientists about efforts in battling herbicide resistance in weeds, developing new peanut varieties and expanding irrigation across the state. In addition, farm economists gave the congresswoman an update on the economic challenges farmers face.
“We have tremendous assets in this state like the work being done at the Wiregrass Center,” said Rep. Roby. “It’s exciting for me to be here and see what Auburn University does for farmers here and across the state. It’s also important to celebrate the successes like this new peanut variety.”
Tour Highlights Scientists’ Work
Lemme said that one of the toughest challenges for farmers is rising production costs.
“Wiregrass farmers as well as all farmers face the real threat of reduced profitability if production costs continue to rise without an increase in commodity prices.”
Production costs have reached a level at which a crop ruined by drought could be a death blow to the average farm. Extension agronomists told Roby that in spite of the threat of crop losses, less than 20 percent of the state’s crop acres are under irrigation.
They also explained how Alabama Extension and Auburn University will use a recent grant to expand irrigation in the state. The grant will enable them to demonstrate on-farm technologies such as variable-rate irrigation and sensor-based irrigation scheduling. In addition, they will work with farmers on how to use climate forecasts to support smart water usage.
Scientists also shared with Rep. Roby that herbicide-resistant weeds are as much a threat as drought to farmers’ incomes.
“Herbicide-resistant weeds such as pigweed raise farmers’ production costs and lower crop yield and quality, reducing the farmers’ incomes,” said Dr. Steve Li, an Alabama Extension weed scientist.
Finally, the congresswoman had an opportunity to see Auburn University’s newest peanut variety. Released this year, AU-NPL 17 promises higher yields and more disease resistance, said Dr. Charles Chen, Auburn University professor of peanut breeding.
“Both those mean more profits for farmers,” said Chen. “Additionally, this variety also is high in oleic fatty acid, a healthy trait that is in high demand by both consumers and peanut food manufacturers.”