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February 07, 2012   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
February 07, 2012

From left are Federation Board Member Richard Edgar of Elmore County, Tuskegee University President Dr. Gilbert Rochon, and Macon County Farmers Federation Board Member Jimmy Bassett and owner of Beck's Turf Farm.
TUSKEGEE, Ala., — The president of Tuskegee University shared how research being conducted at the institution could help predict drought and other crop disasters during a meeting of the Macon County Farmers Federation Monday night at Beck's Turf Farm near Tuskegee.

A native of New Orleans, Dr. Gilbert Rochon became the sixth president of Tuskegee in November 2010. His background, which includes degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana, Yale University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has focused on using satellite technology and remote sensing to address agriculture and public health concerns.

Rochon said he became more aware of how remote sensing could be used to benefit farmers while doing research in the Sudan.

"It did give me the opportunity to see the degree to which technology could be used to serve people in a wide variety of contexts," Rochon said.

In Africa, he and other scientists used satellite technology to track weather and cropping patterns that helped predict locust infestations. Farmers in the area could then use low-cost larvicides to prevent massive crop losses.

Now, Rochon and Tuskegee are working with public and private partners to install remote sensing stations at the university and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab that could be useful not only for agricultural research, but also environmental impact studies. Meanwhile, Tuskegee is partnering with universities in Italy to launch satellites that will provide additional data about weather patters around the world.

"Our goal is to have a third satellite that would be focused on the Southeast to help farmers with precision agriculture," he said.

In addition to its work in precision agriculture, Tuskegee continues to build on its 100-year legacy of helping small and limited-resource farmers.

In December, the university broke ground on the Black Belt Family Farm Fruit and Vegetable Marketing and Innovation Center near Selma. The facility will be used by farmers to receive, package, temporarily store and ship produce. In addition, Tuskegee has reached an agreement with the food service provider on campus to use as much locally grown food as possible on its menus.

Tuskegee also broke ground recently on the Carver Integrative Sustainability Center on campus. The facility will serve about eight counties and provide information on government programs and other benefits as well as expertise from U.S. Department of Agriculture agents. In addition, the center will be used by researchers and Tuskegee students to study and test local produce for quality and safety.

During his talk, Rochon said he looked forward to collaborating with local Farmers Federation members and others on projects that will enhance the profitability of agriculture and strengthen rural communities.

"In numbers, there is strength," Rochon said. "This is certainly true of (Alabama) with Auburn, Alabama A&M and Tuskegee working together.”

Founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee University has a proud history that includes educating more African American veterinarians and high-ranking military officers than any university in the country. Rochon noted that last year Washington Monthly magazine ranked Tuskegee No. 1 among more than 300 baccalaureate universities in America.

Rochon was the first-ever Tuskegee University president to speak at a Macon County Farmers Federation meeting. During the meeting, Federation Board Member Richard Edgar of Elmore County gave an update on a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Alabama's property tax system, as well as this week's Commodity Organizational Conference. Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan spoke about the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting and the federal farm bill debate; Agricultural Legislation Director David Cole gave a preview of legislative session; and Organization Department Director Mike Tidwell announced that the Federation would be accepting applications this spring for the next class of the A.L.F.A. leaders program.

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