Ag News

UGA Tifton kicks off centennial celebration

The UGA Tifton Centennial Celebration Kickoff on Aug. 21 was an acknowledgement of the school’s accomplishments, with the requisite local proclamations, welcome messages and thank-yous to the descendants of Capt. H.H. Tift. And steam whistles.

UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Assistant Dean Joe West shared details of the formation of the Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station, which later became UGA Tifton.

The facility’s authorization process was a study in persistence by the Georgia Landowners Association (GLA) and local businessman Henry Harding Tift. The GLA asked the state legislature to authorize the development of the experiment station in South Georgia, contending that the information generated by the state’s first experiment station in Griffin was not applicable to farms in the Coastal Plain.

 “They recognized that the growing conditions were far, far different in southern Georgia than the growing conditions in the northern part of the state,” West said.

The ceremony featured proclamations from Tifton Mayor Julie Smith and Tift County Commission Chairman Grady Thompson. Smith pointed out that the campus has an $83 million economic impact on the local economy, along with a $5 million economic impact from the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center. USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Supervisory Research Geneticist Corley Holbrook talked about the agency’s collaboration with UGA.

The GLA asked for the experiment station and legislation was submitted and turned town multiple times before being approved in August 1918. Tift was named chairman of the new facility’s board of trustees, whose first task was to select a location, choosing between bids from Baxley, Savannah, Sylvester, Tifton and Waycross.

The ARS assisted in the efforts to get the station authorized and built, and the first ARS scientist, J.C. Hart, arrived in Tifton in 1922 to collaborate with UGA scientists to improve agricultural practices and develop plants adapted to the local environment.

As part of the winning bid, Tift himself donated 206 acres of land. Tifton and Tift County pitched in $25,000 and the promise of free water and electricity for five years. The selection on May 3, 1919, was heralded locally with a long blast from the town’s fire whistle. West said the steam whistle was chosen as the symbol of the centennial celebration, which will feature multiple events in the coming months. Each event, including the Aug. 21 ceremony, is to be started with a blast from a steam whistle.

Catherine Porter Tift, one of H.H. Tift’s grandchildren, pulled the cord to sound the whistle as 13 other family members and more than 100 attendees looked on.

“I’m proud of what Henry Harding Tift did for Tifton,” Catherine Tift Porter said. “He loved Tifton and promoted it everywhere he could. Thank you for helping us keep his name alive.”

Along with ARS scientists, UGA researchers developed improved varieties of forage grasses and created new varieties of peanuts that improved yields from 700 pounds per acre in 1918 to an average of more than 4,000 pounds per acre today.

“Those men and women who have served at this location may not have been able to see the fruition of their work, but we enjoy it today,” CAES Dean Sam Pardue said. “Like so many of us, we truly stand on the shoulders of giants, and it is those efforts that have made such a difference.”