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Virtual APRES Conference deemed success

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Joe Sugg Graduate Student Paper competition, sponsored by the North Carolina Peanut Growers' Association, and the Graduate Student Poster Competition, sponsored by the National Peanut Board, are highlights of the annual APRES meeting.This is from the 2019 annual conference.
Virtual APRES conference is deemed a success; record number of student presentation entries.

The American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES) concluded its first ever virtual annual meeting July 16 by electing a new slate of officers and recognizing outstanding achievement of members and students.

Newly elected APRES President Gary Schwarzlose says organizing the 52nd annual conference during the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges no one could have anticipated, but says he's pleased at how well they pulled it off.

"This year was a challenge for everyone as we developed an agenda for our 52nd annual meeting," Schwarzlose says. "In the past, we planned on going to a certain site and conducting a meeting in a certain way. 2020 threw all that up in the air. We had to regroup and move forward."

He says organizing committees "worked stronger because of the timing and a completely new process. We had to learn and work as one to make it a successful meeting."

He says success depended on "the people behind the curtains making all the bells and whistles work. We had the technology and people we could rely on."

He says two graduate students, Chandler Levinson, University of Georgia and APRES graduate organization president, and Perrine Kemerait, an intern with the American Peanut Council, along with Emi Kimura, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Kim Cutchins, APRES Executive officer, "knew what virtual was and how to use it."

Right Decision

Schwarzlose says converting to a virtual meeting was a hard decision. "We decided to go and then not go, back and forth. It was a big sticking point."

He's convinced virtual was the right decision.

"The sessions were excellent. I sort of expected to get bored sitting there listening and watching a computer screen. I was never bored, especially in the aflatoxin session. We heard a lot of information about a problem that happens every year. The kind of research presented is very encouraging for all of us."

He says approximately 245 registered for the virtual event and adds that a number of people participated who would not have attended in-person. Those included virtual attendees from Iowa State University as well as several from other countries.

Bob Kemerait, University of Georgia Extension and chair of the APRES graduate student paper competition, says the virtual conference posed little impediment to the writing awards.

"With enthusiasm from the students and the sterling support from within the APRES organization, the competitions not only continued, but set a record for student participation," Kemerait says.

"This year, 28 students gave oral presentations and 10 more presented posters. Even more remarkable was that some students who presented from Africa would not have been able to participate if not for the virtual meeting.

"For many APRES members, the Joe Sugg Graduate Student Paper competition, sponsored by the North Carolina Peanut Growers' Association, and the Graduate Student Poster Competition, sponsored by the National Peanut Board, are among the most anticipated highlights of our annual meeting," he says.


It's an especially meaningful event for Kemerait. "Having first participated in the Joe Sugg competition as a graduate student, and now chairing the APRES committee, this competition has been a wonderful part of my career. The 2020 Joe Sugg and poster competitions are perhaps the most special of all," he says.

"If not for the students themselves, it is possible neither competition would have occurred, and certainly not in the format that they did. It was the students who encouraged the APRES leadership that, despite the challenges of an online meeting, continuing the graduate student sessions was of great importance to them."

Picking winners was not easy, Kemerait says. "Judging was very difficult; however, three deserving students were recognized for the papers and for the poster sessions. The true winner in these graduate student competitions, however, is APRES, for without exception, these students demonstrated the excellence, preparation, determination, and poise in presenting wide-ranging research projects that assure a bright future for peanuts and the science of peanut production."

The 2020 Joe Sugg Award winners are: first place, Chandler Levinson, University of Georgia; second place, Kayla Eason, University of Georgia; and third place, Nick Hurdle, University of Georgia.

Graduate student poster contest winners are: first place, Pin-Chu Lai, University of Georgia; second place, Ben Aiger, University of Georgia; honorable mention, Y-C Tsai, University of Georgia.

Other award recipients include: Fellow of the Society, Tim Grey, University of Georgia; Coyt T. Wilson Distinguished Service Award, Kelly Chamberlin, USDA-ARS; Corteva Agriscience Award for Excellence in Research, Ye Chu, University of Georgia; Corteva Agriscience Award for Excellence in Education, Corley Holbrook, USDA-ARS; Bailey Award, Best Paper 2019 Annual Meeting, Scott Tubbs, University of Georgia.

New Officers

APRES members also approved a new slate of officers, including:

President, Gary Schwarzlose; President-Elect, David Jordan; and Past President, Barry Tillman.

Other officers include: University representatives: Virginia/Carolinas, Nathan Smith; Southeast, Bob Kemerait; Southwest, Mark Burow.

Other representatives: USDA, Lisa Dean; Industry, production, Henry McClean; Industry grower association, Bob Sutter; manufactured products, Victor Nwosu; director of science and technology of the American Peanut Council, Steve Brown; National Peanut Board, Dan Ward; APRES graduate Student Organization President, Nick Hurdle.

Lessons Learned

The 2021 APRES Annual Conference returns to Texas and the Omni Las Colinas in Irving, Schwarzlose, says.

He's optimistic about the future of the peanut industry and the ability to present important information under daunting circumstances.

"I've learned from chairing several local arrangements committees and organizing several meetings that it is essential to surround yourself with good people. That means everything happens and for the right reason, and it makes you look good.

"Everybody was apprehensive of a virtual meeting," he says. "Now, we're thinking, even if we get back to normal, why not use virtual, invite speakers from India or Africa to present their research virtually."

The upside, if one exists, of the virus is discovering new ways to present information, he says. "Virtual technology opens us up for so many more opportunities, seminars, webinars, even one-hour sessions on critical issues."

The 2020 APRES conference, he says, shows what can be done.

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