The golden spice to farm profitability
Posted on Mar 06, 2020
Drs. Bipul Biswas and Steven Samuels, Fort Valley State University researchers, examine the turmeric growing on Arthur Thomas’ (far left) farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, along with his friend, Wilkie Hill (far right).
A nutritious super food that potentially prevents heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer could add value to small farming operations in Georgia.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant of the ginger family Zingiberaceae. The aim of two Fort Valley State University researchers is to investigate best management practices for regional growers to produce this vivid, yellow-orange spice and possibly improve farm profitability.
Dr. Bipul Biswas, research assistant professor of biotechnology, and research professional Dr. Steven Samuels are using a $100,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant to aid in their project, “Optimizing Cultivation Practices to Develop Turmeric Production in Georgia.” This is a three-year grant (ending September 2022) awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
“With its suitable climate conditions and available land, Georgia could benefit from promoting turmeric production as an emerging addition to local agriculture,” said Biswas, who serves as principal investigator of the grant.
A native of India, Biswas said Indian and South Asian communities’ have been cooking with turmeric and using it as a natural treatment for centuries. According to his research, the Future Market Insights reported revenue from the global turmeric market stood at more than $2,700 million in 2012 and more than $3,160 million in 2016. It could reach a market variation of more than $5,650 million by the end of 2027. The U.S. turmeric market has tripled over the last half-century, yet most of its production remains in India.
Therefore, to help boost economic stability in Georgia, Biswas and Samuels will conduct field trials to determine the optimal planting date, rhizome size, planting depth and planting density for turmeric rhizome biomass and curcumin production. This will also involve examining fertilizer regimens to compare organic and inorganic fertilizers for feasibility purposes. In addition to field trials, they plan to test other growing systems such as in-door farming, shade farming, raised beds and hydroponics.
Another objective is to develop genomic resources to breed high-yielding, disease resistant turmeric varieties for extractions of medically important compounds and food additives. Graduate and undergraduate students will assist with the research and provide hands-on training for community members. Lastly, Biswas and Samuels plan to form a consortium that connects producers and consumers within the food system more closely.
Samuels, who serves as co-principal investigator, emphasized the health purposes of turmeric. “There is a gap between the health of minority groups and other people,” he said. “An aspect that we want to promote is the holistic benefits from better nutrition and raising your own crops.”
Following their research, the plant experts hope to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through greater capacity of sustainable practices. This could result in increased yield, reduced inputs, increased efficiency, increased economic return and conservation of resources. To start the process, they are working with FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program to connect with local farmers.
Arthur Thomas of Humble Farm Refuge in Milledgeville, Georgia, a micro-urban farm that promotes environmental sustainability, is already reaping the benefits from growing turmeric, ginger and stevia on his less than an acre land behind his house. The Honda Heroes winner met Biswas after visiting FVSU’s booth at the 2018 Pan African Festival in Macon, Georgia, where he inquired about planting specialty crops. He planted stevia first. Then, in spring 2019, Biswas recommended that Thomas grow turmeric and ginger on his land because of the quality soil.
Farming most of his life, Thomas encourages entrepreneurship. “Dr. Biswas has given me hope. It is all about getting healthier. That is what inspired me,” he said.
Not only is he benefiting from Biswas’ expertise, the retired Army veteran is paying it forward by educating others. He and his partner, Dolores Davis of Milledgeville, and friend, farmer Wilkie Hill of Gordon, Georgia, are determined to make a difference and better their communities.
“The reality of it all is to help each other,” Thomas said. “Dr. Biswas recognizes the connection between research and grassroots. The more you educate, the more stevia, turmeric and ginger people will consume.”
- FVSU Agriculture College