Making A Difference in Our County
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working hard for its constituents. The following are examples of Extension’s impact in the county over the past year.
FAMILY AND CONSUMER SCIENCES
Beginning in 2016, the Sumter County FACS Agent has participated in a multi-state collaboration with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Georgia (UGA) to provide free tax preparation through the Virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Sumter County Extension serves as an intake site. The FACS Agent coordinates appointments, advises clients of required tax documents, assists clients with a tax questionnaire and relays all tax documents to student tax preparers at either the UF or UGA. Virtual VITA allows rural areas to connect to the main University campuses where accounting and financial planning graduate students under professorial supervision prepare the tax returns. The student tax preparers then review the completed tax return with the client via web cam which allows real time interaction between client and preparer. Student tax preparers obtain hands-on tax preparation experience with both Federal and State tax returns. Students also improve their interpersonal skills by interacting with a diverse group of clients, learn how to utilize technology to reach clients, and gain valuable experience following up with clients by composing letters offering personalized tax advice.
Once the clients' taxes are filed, the Sumter County FACS Agent shares financial education on the importance of saving, maintaining a bank account, and establishing a budget.
In 2020, the Sumter County FACS agent completed 13 Federal and State of Georgia returns through the Virtual VITA program. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic both Universities suspended in-person classes and the Agent was not able to offer tax preparation services for the entire tax season. Total amount in federal tax refunds received by taxpayers participating in the project was $19,920. The total amount of earned income tax credit (EITC) dollars received was $2,519. State refunds totaled $3,719. It is estimated that Virtual VITA saved Sumter County taxpayers $3,900 in tax preparation and refund anticipation loan fees.
4-H YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
The Sumter County 4-H Club works collaboratively with local schools to provide youth development programming. Members of 4-H grow and work together with adults to develop life skills through educational programs, competitions, and activities. During the 2020 4-H, virtual 4-H clubs and activities were offered for youth to participate safely. A total of 825 youth enrolled in Sumter County 4-H program during the 2020 4-H year.
AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Commodity prices in 2020 have been lower than in years past, therefore it is imperative for a grower to try to maximize their economic gain by harvesting a peanut crop at optimal maturity. Gross returns on peanuts depend on yield and quality. The value of a farmer's peanuts is determined by the grade and the yield of the peanuts. The Sumter County Cooperative Extension Office conducts maturity evaluations for peanut producers in the area to optimize the date to dig individual fields of peanuts. The Agent assisted growers in making over 200 harvest decisions in 2020. Research indicates that farmer returns can be as much as $200 per acre higher with proper harvest timing verses early harvest.
Sumter County's chief economic driver is agriculture. Peanuts are one of the major driving forces for the county's farm gate value with approximately 50% of the peanuts being grown for seed. In 2020 more than 15,000 acres of peanuts were planted in Sumter County. The value of a farmer's peanuts is determined by the grade and the yield of the peanuts. Research by scientists with the National Peanut Research Lab show digging three weeks too early or too late can result in a 20 percent reduction in yield potential. Premature harvest also reduces the grade of the peanuts. It is critical to dig peanuts when optimal maturity is reached to maximize both the yield and grade of peanuts which will result in maximizing profits for producers.
Sumter County Cooperative Extension offers peanut maturity evaluations to area producers to help determine optimum harvest dates for their crop. Producers will take a representative sample, about 200 peanuts, from a field and bring them to the extension office. The peanuts are then blasted using a pressure washer and turbo nozzle to remove the outer layer of the hull. The inner layer of the hull is then compared to a profile board to determine relative maturity with respect to days until optimum maturity.
For the 2020 peanut growing season, this agent has evaluated over 200 samples for peanut maturity for area peanut producers. Research by scientists with the National Peanut Research Lab show digging three weeks too early can result in a 20 percent reduction in yield potential. With an average peanut yield of 4,800 pounds per acre that could mean a potential loss of 960 pounds per acre. With 15,000 acres of peanuts, that is a loss of over 14.4 million pounds with an estimated value of 2.9 million dollars. That equates to about $200 per acre that could potentially be lost due to harvesting too or early or too late. Optimum harvest can be one of the most important decisions growers can make regarding peanut harvest. Harvesting peanuts at the proper time represents clear profits for growers, as no additional input is required other than digging at the right time.