Surat Thani Province has the total area of 8,174,758.61 rai, which is the agricultural area of 2,791,972 rai or 34.15 percent of the provincial area. Most people make a living from agriculture. The landscape and the weather that receives an influence from monsoon from the sea make Surat Thani to become a suitable area for growing economic plants with the variety of main economic plants, including fruit trees, such as mangosteen, rambutan, durian, and longan. At the same time, it is the main area for growing rubber tree, palm oil, and rice. Moreover, in the industrial sector, Surat Thani is the province with the great expansion of industrial sector, especially rubber wood processingfactory in the number of no lower than 100 factories. Even though the area for growing fruits is less when comparing with the proportion of area for growing rubber tree and palm oil, some types of fruit, like durian, are currently starting to have good marketing direction, which might cause the cultivating area to expand quickly in the future. With the outstanding landscape of southern region, there is a way to add the value to fruit products. The landscape of southern region is a long peninsula with high mountains in the area, which causes the differences in the period for blooming and harvesting. The growing areas on the Andaman Coast, which are Ranong Province and PhangNgha Province and various types of fruit, such as mangosteen, rambutan, and longan, will bloom in July, which is before the growing areas on the Gulf of Thailand, which is in February and March. For the growing area on the east of the peninsula, the blooming period will start from the upper area to the lower area, starting from Chum Phon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima, Phatthalung, Songkhla, Phatthani, and Narathiwat, respectively. Therefore, the harvesting period of the upper southern region will be faster than the lower southern region and the harvesting of southern region will be later than the growing areas in the eastern region of Thailand, which causes the fruits to bloom at the end of the year. This is considered to be an advantage because the off-season products will have higher price than in-season products about 4 to 5 times (SuthiwongPhongphaibun, 2010).
Moreover, with the current trend of safe food consumption, the needs for chemical-free agricultural products are increased. Though Surat Thani Province is not the main province to produce chemical-free vegetables of the southern region, but some types of agricultural crop that are the main plants of the province starts to be produced by using organic agricultural, such as durian, aromatic coconut, and Chaiya fragrance rice. Therefore, the production of agricultural crops that is free from chemicals to eradicate insects and plant diseases by studying the methods to control the epidemic of insects and plant diseases without using chemicals is another research that can respond to the needs of Surat Thani’s farmers and can also add the value to the products. This is a new alternative for farmers who encounter with problems of low price in rubber and palm oil.
Therefore, the Economic Plant Research Unit of Surat Thani Province is established to combine the brain power and the research ability of the faculty of teachers in the Faculty of Science and Agricultural Technology and the Faculty of Wood Technology in order to improve the research in terms of the growing of economic plants of Surat Thani Province, the nurturing, and the productivity, including the adding of value to the products from processing. All aspects are important and can be improved by researching and taking the research result into practice to increase the potentiality of economic plant production. Moreover, the operation of the research unit can support the production of university students in graduate school level by providing research fund in which the university students can improve their potentiality in the research throughactual actions from doing the research with teachers in the research unit to enhance the quality of university students in graduate school level of Prince of Songkhla University.
From previous experiences in the making of research, it was found that farmers, starting from owners of large business to farmers who cultivate in the area of less than 1 rai, begin to improve themselves greatly because everyone can gain access into agricultural information from information media easily. Therefore, they can find knowledge from both local and foreign websites. However, farmers still need someone to guide or transfer the knowledge of agricultural technology closely because the study and the practice from the obtained information might take a long time to become successful because the academic knowledge and understanding are also needed. The target of Economic Plant Research Unit of Surat Thani Province is not only to develop a research work from the needs of the community, but also to provide academic advice to farmers and personnel from other relevant agencies.