Spreading the word on just how important Georgia’s agriculture is to our state is a message that needs to be continually shared, said Brian Kemp, Georgia secretary of state.
Kemp was in Gainesville on Thursday as guest speaker at the 2013 Hall County Farmer Appreciation Breakfast, held during the national Farm-City Week. The annual breakfast, held at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, was hosted by the Hall County Farm Bureau and the Hall County Cooperative Extension.
In noting the importance of promoting agriculture in Georgia, Kemp said that, "it’s a very unique situation when you have the largest industry in the state — by far — but when you talk about farmers, it deals with probably the smallest population in the state. And that’s what really makes it important for our citizens who may never have been to a farm or to an agribusiness ... to understand how much it brings to our economy, what it provides for our people — food, fiber, shelter and other things — and to make sure people don’t forget this."
One of Kemp’s duties as secretary of state is making sure the state conducts secure elections. And for agriculture, he expressed that, "a major issue for Georgia going forward is making sure that we continue to elect leaders to the legislature, and certainly to our statewide offices, that understand (the importance of agriculture) and are willing to get up and defend agriculture."
A key ingredient to the success of Georgia’s economy is how agriculture leads to diversification and expansion, he said.
"It’s not just about the farmer that’s growing the seed, but also the people who are trucking the seed, the rail business, the equipment we’re buying, the electricity we’re buying; all these things end up resonating out into the economy and help to diversify the economy in Georgia," Kemp said, adding that this diversification leads to more jobs in farming, manufacturing, trucking, etc.
He also noted the importance of the Port of Savannah and how it is a major source of getting Georgia agriculture shipped around the world.
"Agriculture resonates on a statewide basis, and a lot of what’s driving the expansion in our ports right now is agriculture — in minerals, in feed, in seed — that are being shipped out of the country," Kemp said. "There is also a lot of poultry being exported as well, which really makes our port one that is very unique in the U.S."
The Port of Savannah notes that raw cotton is its fastest growing export commodity. It is also the leading port for U.S. poultry exports. In 2011, almost 40 percent of the nation’s containerized poultry exports, approximately 1.6 billion pounds, moved through the Port of Savannah.
"You want to have those ships full when they are coming in, and you want them to be full when they are going out," he added. "That’s healthy for our economy and it also helps keep us diverse."
"When most people think about agriculture, they will tie that in with the produce section of the grocery store," Kemp said. "But you also need to think about things like the clothes we’re wearing. Cotton is a huge crop in Georgia. We’re exporting a lot of cotton, and that ends up coming back as imports in a lot of our clothing goods."
Currently a popular and growing segment of agriculture is the emphasis on "locally grown."
Kemp added that on the food front, outside of the grocery store shelves, is the locally grown concept that is seeing a tremendous amount of interest from consumers.
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black "has done a tremendous job with the ‘Georgia Grown’ program," Kemp said. "This program is only going to continue to get bigger. It’s been a great marketing effort by the commissioner and the department, and you see it everywhere you go.
"A lot of families are transferring their small, family farms into locally grown operations, as well as other things, to make them more viable, and we are going to continue to see that happening."
Locally grown farming and agritourism will continue to be seen across the state, "and that’s going to continue to be huge for our economy," Kemp said. "It will continue to keep our economy diverse. It will also help people stay on their family farms, to stay in a community where they grew up ... and provide opportunity for jobs."