FACES & PLACES: Research center offers many resources for farmers

Published 10:38 am Friday, August 9, 2013

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Editor’s note: This story appeared in The Clanton Advertiser’s annual Faces & Places publication. Copies are still available at the the Advertiser’s office at 1109 Seventh St. N. in Clanton, or you can read the full publication online here.

Peaches are a way of life for many Chilton County residents.

But what happens when the area’s most well-known and important crop suffers from disease—or just doesn’t produce.

Fortunately, local farmers have a resource in the Chilton Research and Extension Center. The center, which acts as a field laboratory for scholars at Auburn University, is one of only six of its kind in the state.

The center, led by director Jim Pitts, tests different varieties of peaches, plus chemical treatments, to find out what is the most effective approach for farmers.

Jim Pitts is director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center.Jim Pitts is director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center.

“We’re trying to keep our growers economically viable,” Pitts said.

The work is important because growers, able to focus on short-term sales, don’t have the resources to experiment themselves. Plus, such tests are costly.

“It takes a lot of money to do research,” Pitts said. “We’re trying to take the loss—we’d rather it be us than the growers.”

An example of the center’s work is its recent participation in a test aimed at combating one of the most destructive diseases for Chilton County’s most famous fruit: peach tree short-life, which causes relatively young trees to collapse and die.

The Research and Extension Center helped produce trees that survived short life.

“Because of the work we did, they were able to develop trees that weren’t as susceptible to it,” Pitts said.

Pitts has been at the center for 30 years.

“We’re very grateful to be able to do this kind of work,” he said.

There is work other than Pitts’ being done at the center, also. Michelle Elmore has been at the center since 2000 as an Extension animal scientist for the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

The BCIA’s mission is to promote, educate and facilitate the use of performance data, record-keeping and marketing opportunities for BCIA members.

Elmore covers the entire state, processing records so her customers can have date about performance, such as weights.

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Elmore said.

Elmore said the work is so important because profit margins are tight with the rising costs of fuel, feed and fertilizers.

The Research and Extension Center hosts the Farm and Home Expo each year, a chance for local residents to gain knowledge about agriculture and related fields they might find useful.

The event features fruit tasting, cooking demonstrations, a raptor exhibit, skeet shooting and more. This year’s Expo is scheduled for Aug. 3.