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At annual meeting, experts try to forecast 09 ag industry
Audience members listen to a speaker at the 2009 Georgia agriculture forecast at the Gainesville Civic Center. - photo by Tom Reed

A Washington attorney who represents Georgia’s peanut growers on Capitol Hill said food safety will be a major issue in the current Congress.

Robert L. Redding Jr. made his remarks in Gainesville during the annual agriculture forecast sponsored by the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, which also featured some good news for the poultry industry about feed prices.

“The current situation with peanuts is just one variable in the process,” Redding said Tuesday morning.

“Last year, we had the situation with peppers and tomatoes that just devastated those growers. We believe FDA was not set up to deal with these kinds of crisis in terms of traceability.”

He emphasized that the Blakely plant being investigated in the salmonella outbreak produces only 1 percent of the peanut butter made in the U.S.

Redding said the South has lost some of its agricultural influence in Washington because of changes in congressional committee assignments and administrative changes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We’ve gone from having four high profile leaders from this region, two undersecretaries and two administrators, to an unknown,” Redding said. “It does concern me that we do not have a lot of people from this region who are being discussed.”

Redding said the state lost one member, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., from the House Agriculture Committee. However, U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., has been named to chair the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Also during Tuesday morning’s program, an agricultural economist predicted some moderation of feed prices in 2009, which is good news for the poultry industry.

“I think we will have better year in poultry,” said John McKissick of the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at UGA. “The loss of capacity that we’ve had will mean cuts in production and that will be important to keeping prices higher.”

McKissick said the true future of the poultry industry this year will be determined in the grain fields of Iowa.

“Right now, it appears grain prices will moderate from the prices we had last year,” he said. Scott Angle, dean of the ag school, said enrollment is at a record high and that efforts are continuing to recruit students into the field.

“Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough students,” Angle said. “Only about 55 percent of the college-educated work force needed in agriculture in the state is being trained in Georgia.”

He said that agribusiness in the state are having to go to Auburn, Clemson and North Carolina State universities to find candidates to fill jobs.

“We need to be doing a better job of keeping our kids in Georgia and keep them in our state to work because this is where the jobs are,” he said.

Angle said students interested in agriculture need to take a rigorous curriculum in high school in order to gain admission to the university.

“Get them in touch with us soon, at the age of 15 or 16. If they are 17 or 18 and just thinking about where they want to go to college, frankly, it’s too late,” he said.

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