The future looks optimistic for the state's poultry industry, agriculture leaders announced Thursday at the annual Georgia Ag Forecast.
"Poultry production, the input costs are still so high the industry is struggling to make a decent profit right now, but that could change very easily," said Scott Angle, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. "If there's policy changes in China, a good year growing corn in the Midwest ... and we could see this industry come roaring back overnight."
For example, there was a 2 to 3 percent drop in production of hatching flocks for broilers, the birds that would eventually be placed in poultry houses, said John McKissick, professor emeritus for the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the university.
"Because of that, we're looking at reduced production at least all the way through this year," McKissick told attendees. "We probably aren't going to see returns back to the kind of levels on the broiler side at least until 2013."
The decreases in production, however, will mean an increase in prices from 2011 levels, he said. For 2012 as a whole, McKissick predicted about a $3 to $4 per hundredweight increase compared to last year.
Aside from making Gainesville the Poultry Capital of the World, the poultry industry is the largest of Georgia's agricultural manufacturing base. It could still be affected by some of agriculture's pressing issues in 2012, McKissick said: weather, economic growth, energy and other input costs, the value of the dollar, interest rates, the federal surplus and deficit, inflation and the housing market.
"There are some other issues that could have a very negative impact on what we're going to do in this room," Angle said. "We need to hold our elected officials accountable to feed the world, clothe the world and make enough money so farmers will stay in business. As you get the opportunity, talk to our delegation. We are still growing and we are still profitable."
Area producers, including Jaemor Farms founder Jimmy Echols and Martha Ezzard, co-owner of Tiger Mountain Vineyards, attended to hear what the forecast predicted for their industries.
"I came here to get the assessment of the overall economy (that) would impact agriculture," Echols said. "It's been very interesting."
Other topics on the agenda included a discussion about the Federal H-2A guest worker program and a "demystification" of the 2012 Farm Bill, which is still in the works in Congress.
"There's a lot of programs that were authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill that there's not the funding for," said Jon Huffmaster, legislative director for the Georgia Farm Bureau. "We got a lot of problems working against us with this Farm Bill. One is uncertainty about the budget."
Another challenge is the number of groups, both in and outside agriculture, with ideas of what should be funded in the bill.
The three main Farm Bill titles are nutrition, commodity and conservation, but the one causing the most issues now is nutrition. That includes the school lunch program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Huffmaster said.
"Most people think the money spent in the Farm Bill goes to farmers. It should be called the Food Bill because 75 cents of every dollar goes into the nutrition title," he said. "Back when we were trying to cut $23 billion from the Farm Bill it was suggested to take $4 billion out of nutrition. There was widespread outrage that we would suggest that — how in the world can we take food from the mouths of children and poor people and give it to the rich farmers?"
But the farmers aren't rich, Huffmaster said. Even if cotton is $2 a pound, the farmer's not cashing in his crop for leisurely pursuits. He has to pay for land and input costs to keep his operation running.
That, among other misconceptions, is one reason Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black wants state leaders "to come across the street" to the department and see how legislation such as H-2A and the Farm Bill really affect his industry.
"I would suggest to you to try to tune our hearts and get our attitudes straight for 2012," he said.
"We can solve Agriculture's component of this problem if Congress will make it a priority in 2012. They're going to probably get tired of hearing me talk about this, but every time we have a chance to talk about this issue, don't let up. Whatever association you're involved in, do not let up."