If you spend any time driving across Northeast Georgia, you will notice how the ‘landscape’ has changed. What was once primarily farm land has changed to primarily neighborhoods and homes on small acreages.
However, agriculture is still alive and well, particularly on small farms, and many of these small parcels of land have something in common — horses.
There are an estimated 250,000 horses that reside in the state of Georgia and there hasn’t been a census of horses in the state since 1969. An estimate of 250,000 is based on statistics from breed associations and surrounding states that have recently completed a horse census.
Georgia’s horse population contains multiple breeds which are used for multiple disciplines.
It is estimated that the Georgia horse industry has a $1 billion annual economic impact. The 2006 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report published by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development ranks horses as sixth among 60 agricultural products.
This ranking is based on estimates of money generated from the boarding, training, breeding, and raising of horses. The total of the estimated farm gate income generated from horses was $416,478,500. This value accounts for approximately 120,000 horses or less than half of the horses thought to reside in Georgia.
In Hall County, income generated from horses is growing annually. In 2006, the total farm gate income from horses was more than $15 million, not including the related sales and services such as feed, tack, supplies, and veterinary services.
The No. 1 use of horses is for some type of recreation. Trail riding is probably the largest recreational use of horses. Showing horses is both recreational as well as business.
There are more than 1,200 licensed boarding stables in the state of Georgia. The horse industry generates many different businesses and services that have a direct connection to feed, breeding, training, tack and equipment, transportation, insurance and real estate.
Last year presented horse owners and boarding facilities with a number of challenging issues. Certainly, the ongoing drought resulted in reduced hay supplies, thereby driving up the cost of hay. Also, the price of corn-based feeds increased as well due to the heightened emphasis on corn ethanol production.
Another issue facing the horse industry is that of land use — in particular, managing horses on small acreages.
In times of ample rainfall, rotating the animals from one pasture to another is feasible, but during drought, there simply is not enough grass to go around.
Also related to small acreage farms is the rural-suburban interface. Specifically, residents from a non-farm background moving into a more rural setting and experiencing for the first time the sites, sounds, and smells that come with most farming operations.
As Northeast Georgia continues to grow and change, issues such as these will be as important, if not more so, than the traditional challenges many farmers face.
Horse owners, and farmers in general, will likely need to take a proactive role in educating the general public of the benefits of farms and farm communities.
For more information the horse industry, visit www.extension.org/horses.
Billy Skaggs is Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at gainesvilletimes.com.