Agriculture in Georgia is a complicated and interwoven industry. When one segment is affected by a downturn, another segment typically is quick to follow. But the same is true when positive changes occur.
An example is when Fieldale Farms introduced its Springer Mountain Farms brand. Company officials knew it would not have been possible without the advancements in production techniques that have been backed up by research.
Fieldale executives explained that history to University of Georgia President Jere Morehead last Thursday and advocated research investment.
UGA has one of the top agriculture schools in the U.S. and one of only six poultry science programs in the country. But agriculture programs have suffered deep cuts in lean budget years, and agriculture producers across the state took two days to argue that the investment in agriculture education and research is important to creating jobs and economic development.
Over 800 miles in two days, Morehead, agriculture college Dean Scott Angle and state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black toured farms and research plots, the Sunbelt Expo center, a bull test station, an apple orchard and more. Morehead used this opportunity to learn as much as he could about the largest industry in Georgia.
Broilers make up nearly half the value of Georgia’s total agricultural output each year, followed by cotton and peanuts.
Fieldale alone employs 4,400 people in the hatcheries, breeder farm, pullet farm and processing plant. That’s not even counting the farmers who run broiler houses.
“There’s not a part of the domestic market that we don’t touch with product that we make right here in Habersham County,” said John Wright, the vice president of operations for the company. The company exports to 40 countries.
To produce that much chicken, 1.5 million hens lay 4 million eggs a week. The climate control where they incubate is so specific, the facility has one of the highest live hatch rates. As they grow, the birds consume 7 million pounds a day of all-vegetable feed.
But agriculture is interconnected, Fieldale representatives pointed out, it’s important not to fund one program at the expense of another. For instance, broiler producers benefit from advancements that improved the yield of corn, soybeans or even wheat.
Deciding how to prioritize limited research dollars isn’t easy, Black said.
“It’s a big balancing act,” he said.
Alternative crops do get research support. Blueberries, once a backyard bush that Southerners grew only for their families, became a major crop over the past 20 years and universities poured money into research to make the plants more resistant to drought and pests.
Morehead, who worked as an attorney, professor and administrator before becoming university president earlier this year, said he learned quite a bit about the economic impact agriculture has on Georgia.
“I did learn a lot of things I didn’t know before. In terms of a crash course in the agriculture industry across the state, I think this tour gave me a much better understanding of how vital the agriculture industry is to the state of Georgia and to the future of Georgia,” he said. “It gave me a renewed interest in making sure that the university does everything to ensure that we are playing an important role in supporting the agriculture industry.”
Morehead added, “In the future, if we have to make budget reductions, they need to be done in a way that supports the future development and growth of the state and certainly supporting agriculture is critical to the future of the state.”
Source: www.growinggeorgia.com, Allison Floyd
Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.