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Center of innovation fights to attract, keep ag business in state
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All business owners would appreciate a little extra help, especially in these hard economic times. Georgia agribusinesses and farmers have a team working for them at the Centers of Innovation for Agriculture. And its help is free.

From helping a Georgia cattleman find new markets for his beef to courting a Norwegian company to Georgia, the center has one goal: To help the state’s agricultural industries grow and succeed, said Bill Boone, the center’s director based in Tifton.

“Agriculture had a business economic impact of $58 billion last year,” Boone said.

The center promotes innovation and cutting-edge technology to help Georgia industries compete in the state, nationally and globally, he said.

“We find agricultural businesses that need research out of the university system to help their business grow, and we connect them with the university that can best help them,” Boone said.

The center is located on the Tifton campus of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where more than 100 UGA and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists work. These neighbors directly help the center’s projects, he said.

“The Centers of Innovation work directly with the industry community to proactively identify problems and solutions through connections to university research, commercialization, innovation and proprietary processes,” Boone said.

He and his staff work as advocates for Georgia agribusinesses.

“We’re just getting under way with a European company, Deep Organic, that wants to grow grain in Georgia to produce a milk-alternative,” he said. “They are working with researchers on the UGA campus in Griffin, Ga., to research alternative southern grains for their product, as well as conduct taste tests to determine North American taste preferences.”

The center is collaborating with the CAES poultry science department, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the UGA Warnell School of Forest Resources, FRAM Fuels and other private companies to test the use of wood pellets as a heat source for poultry houses. The process promises to be both cost-effective and beneficial to the chickens, Boone said.

The agriculture center works closely with CAES scientists studying bioenergy foodstocks and value-added uses for agriculture by-products.

“These prospects run the gamut from determining which biodiesel feedstocks will grow well in Georgia to which varieties of sweet potatoes and sweet sorghum might grow the best in Georgia for ethanol production,” he said.

To date, the center has led more than 75 projects with existing Georgia agricultural companies and helped 23 new companies establish footholds in Georgia.

The agriculture center is one of six Centers of Innovation that Gov. Sonny Perdue created in 2003, including one at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood that focuses on manufacturing. The other centers concentrate on aerospace, life sciences, information technology and maritime logistics. For more, visit the Web site at

Thanks to Sharon Dowdy, UGA CAES News Editor.

Billy Skaggs is a Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at