(Summerville, GA) – Georgia farmers not only grow our food and clothes but they also make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. To celebrate the industry, Gov. Sonny Perdue has designated March 14-20 as Georgia Agriculture Week and has designated March 16 as Georgia Ag Awareness Day. Georgia’s weeklong celebration coincides with National Agriculture Week. National Agriculture Day is March 20.
The most recent statistics show that in 2008, Georgia agriculture had a total economic impact of $65 billion on the state economy and created more than 351,000 jobs, according to the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED). Food and fiber production and related businesses represent the largest or second largest segment of all goods and services produced in two-thirds of Georgia’s counties. One in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or agriculture-related fields.
“Without farmers, Georgia can’t grow! Agriculture not only feeds and clothes the citizens of Georgia, but it also provides jobs, which is very important in our current economic situation,” Wayne Hurley, Chattooga County Farm Bureau president, said. “Nationally, agriculture is one of the few U.S. industries with a positive trade balance, meaning we export more food and agricultural products than we import. This gives us national security because it means we don’t have to depend on other countries to feed us.”
Gov. Perdue and his Agricultural Advisory Committee will host a celebration March 16 at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta to spotlight Georgia agriculture. Gov. Perdue will recognize the five district winners of his Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Award and announce the state winner. This award honors farmers who have adopted farming practices that protect the soil, water and air on their farms. The district winners are Early D. Barrs of Bleckley County, Stanley Corbett of Echols County, Jamie Jordan of Floyd County, Wayne McKinnon of Coffee County and Keith Nichols of Stephens County. Gov. Perdue will also announce winners of the Flavor of Georgia Food Contest, which recognizes food products made with Georgia-grown ingredients.
According to the USDA, there are almost 48,000 farms in Georgia that produce annual sales of more than $1,000 with an average farm size of 212 acres. Georgia has 10.1 million acres of farmland.
Georgia ranks first in the nation in the production of broiler chickens, peanuts, pecans, rye and spring onions according to the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service. Nationwide, Georgia is also a leading producer of cotton, cucumbers, snap beans, cantaloupes, sweet corn, bell peppers, blueberries, peaches, watermelons, cabbage and squash.
The top 10 agricultural commodities grown in Georgia, based on their 2008 farm gate value, are: broilers, eggs, cotton, peanuts, timber, horses, beef, dairy, greenhouse horticulture products and corn. The farm gate value of these commodities, the value of the commodities farmers sell, are collected and ranked by the UGA CAED.
“It’s easy to take agriculture for granted because the shelves at our local grocery store are always full of a variety of foods,” Chattooga County Farm Bureau President Wayne Hurley said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there these days. This week gives consumers a chance to learn where their food originates and how it is grown.”
For example, it’s a common misconception that factory farms produce most of the food Americans consume. USDA statistics show that individuals, family partnerships or family corporations own 98 percent of all U.S. farms. Farm families often form partnerships or corporations for legal and business reasons, but they’re still family farms, not factory farms. Family partnerships or family-owned corporations produce 84 percent of American-grown food. Non-family corporations only produce 18 percent of the food grown in the U.S.
The average farmer produces enough food and fiber for 155 people in the United States and abroad. This is a good thing because less land is devoted to farming than it was a generation ago and the number of farmers continues to decline. Farms that specialize in selling locally grown food directly to consumers are a great asset for communities, but there is still a need for farms that efficiently produce large quantities of food to feed our growing population.
“Studies show that by 2050, the world’s population will rise from six billion to about 11 billion people. This means world food demand could double in the next forty years,” Hurley said. “To accomplish this, farmers will have to continue to rely on scientific advances that improve our yields and the quality of our crops and livestock. We need to make decisions related to food production based on research, not misconceptions. ”
The efficiency of farmers benefits consumers economically. According to the USDA, Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world, which allows us to spend more of our paycheck on housing, medical care, clothes and leisure activities. While the average American spends less than 10 percent of his disposable personal income on food each year, French consumers spend 14 percent; Chinese consumers spend 35 percent, and Indonesian consumers spend 46 percent.
“Farmers do a lot to ensure that the food that reaches our consumers is safe. I eat the food and so does my family, so I want it to be healthy just as much as any other consumer,” said Mr. Hurley “I’m a farmer, but my farm is a business. As a businessman it’s my job to produce the highest quality food possible for the people who will eat the food I grow. This means raising healthy animals to produce a healthy food product.”
Because farmers recognize that superior animal welfare practices lead to the production of high-quality, safe meat, milk and eggs, they constantly seek ways to improve the well-being and comfort of their animals. One way of doing this is to provide adequate food, water and medical care to protect the health of their animals. Farmers also provide shelter appropriate to their farming operation to protect their animals from disease, injury and predators. National and state quality assurance programs provide farmers with guidelines for the production of safe, wholesome animals, including recommendations on necessary animal handling and facilities.
“The standard of care we provide our animals and production practices we follow is based on the recommendations of animal scientists at leading agricultural colleges who have conducted research to determine the best way to raise healthy, productive animals,” said Mr. Hurley.