Ag Issues Summit covers gamut of topics
By Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau
A record crowd of about 300 turned out for the 2022 Joint Agriculture Committee Chairmen Ag Issues Summit held Aug. 30 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter. Almost 15 speakers covered numerous ag issues including legislation the Georgia General Assembly passed this year pertaining to agriculture and updates on activities at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, Georgia Department of Agriculture and the UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. Other speakers discussed water initiatives being offered in Southwest Georgia, Farm Service Agency programs and work the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center is doing to help families clear titles to property passed on to the next generation with multiple owners.
Georgia Rep. Robert Dickey and Georgia Sen. Larry Walker III, who chair the Georgia House and Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committees, hosted this annual event that gives Georgia’s ag community an update on current and emerging issues Georgia’s top economic sector is experiencing. The summit was started more than a decade ago by former House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen Tom McCall and John Bulloch.
“We’re mighty proud to have such a great crowd today,” said Walker, chairman of the Georgia Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. “I think it’s indicative of the importance of agriculture and what’s going on in Georgia’s ag industry. We had a productive 2022 Session and passed a lot of bills important to agriculture.”
Among these were Senate Bill 396 – authored by Sen. Russ Goodman – which allows farmers to sell produce directly to Georgia food banks and House Bill 1303 - supported by Reps. Dickey, Terry England, Clay Pirkle, Patty Bentley and Chris Erwin - that will make the existing pilot elementary ag education program currently available in more than 20 schools a permanent program available to all Georgia elementary schools.
“It’s good to see the many agency heads from the state of Georgia, state legislators, federal government representatives and representatives from all of our farm groups here today,” said Dickey, chairman of the Georgia Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. “My committee members - whether they’re from rural South Georgia or metro-Atlanta - they have a real passion for agriculture.”
Marriott Hotel coming to GNFA
Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter Executive Director Stephen Shimp encouraged everyone to attend the upcoming Georgia National Fair to be held Oct. 6-16.
“We’re going to have the best fair we’ve ever had,” Shimp said. “COVID is over and we’re looking forward to getting back to normal. This fair is like the Super Bowl for kids who show livestock. We know our responsibility is to give all the kids and families who come a good time.”
Shimp said the GNFA is working to bring a Fairfield & TownePlace Suites Marriott Hotel to the fairgrounds. The four-floor hotel will offer full amenities for guests staying in one of the 129-rooms including a restaurant and pool. Shimp said an air conditioned “Hall of Fame” will connect the hotel to the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building making the agricenter a “premier convention center destination.”
The initial hotel design approved by the Georgia Agricultural Exposition must go through several review and permit approval steps followed by selection of a contractor before construction begins. GNFA leaders hope to have the hotel operational mid-year of 2024, Shimp told a GFB reporter.
The Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter annually welcomes more than one million visitors to the facility located along I-75 on the southside of Perry for premier events including the annual rodeo sanctioned by the Professional Bull Riders and multiple National Barrel Horse Association events. In June the facility welcomed the National Jr. High School Finals Rodeo, which drew 45,000 visitors and will return to the Agricenter in 2023. This marked the first time the National Jr. High Finals Rodeo had been held this far east, Shimp said.
Black touts importance of regional meat processing facilities & recruiting employees
Outgoing Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black received a standing ovation, as he walked to the front of the room to deliver his presentation, for the work he has done to serve Georgia agriculture since taking office January 2011.
Black encouraged Georgia livestock producers to explore USDA and Ga. Dept. of Agriculture (GDA) programs that offer financial assistance to build regional meat processing facilities. The USDA is offering funds through its Meat & Poultry Intermediary Lending Program. This year the Georgia General Assembly reallocated $7.8 million in unused funds originally designated for cleaning up 2018 forestry damage from Hurricane Michael to be awarded for establishing meat processing facilities. The GDA is working with the Georgia Development Authority to award the approximately $4 million remaining after funds have been awarded to a meat processing facility in Wilcox County, Black said.
“We as livestock producers have got to do this,” Black said. “There is a tremendous cooperative spirit amongst Georgia’s cotton and peanut producers with cotton gins and peanut processing facilities. Now we need to do this for our livestock producers who are trying to serve local customers.”
Black also encouraged Georgia ag leaders to think of ways to recruit and retain employees to work in Georgia government and agriculture jobs.
“The iceberg we’re facing is who is going to run this government five to ten years from now? Who is going to choose government and agriculture as a career path? How do we recruit and keep these people?” Black asked.
GDA staff discuss emerging commodities & improved technology
With the Georgia Raw Dairy Act set to go into effect July 1, 2023, which will make the sale of unpasteurized milk legal, the GDA is working to write the food safety regulations that producers and sellers of raw milk must follow.
“We have to determine how many producers are interested in participating in this and allocating appropriate resources to meet the need for enforcing this new program,” said Dan Duncan, GDA Chief Operating Officer.
Members of Georgia’s dairy sector sought passage of the Georgia Raw Dairy Act to address gaps in state law that resulted in untested, unregulated raw milk being sold and consumed by humans under a pet food label. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration and health experts recommend that pasteurized Grade A milk is safest for consumers because pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for diseases such as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and brucellosis, but the demand for unpasteurized milk has risen in the past decade from consumers who want milk straight from the cow.
The new dairy act is intended to make the production and sale of unpasteurized milk as safe as possible while also providing a new market opportunity for Georgia dairies.
Duncan said Georgia’s emerging commercial citrus crop is estimated to have about 3,300 acres planted with production expected to reach 56 million pounds by 2024. While the future of Georgia citrus looks bright, challenges include pest pressure and citrus greening.
“We are beginning to see signs of pest pressure and greening and are working to help producers stay on top of it to prevent the spread of both,” Duncan said. “GDA needs resources to properly support the citrus industry with facilities such as a clean budwood facility to provide growers with clean stock [trees].”
Duncan said there is discussion of putting such a facility in Griffin.
GDA Chief Information Officer William Rutherford said the department aims to unveil a new website by the end of this year that will increase online engagement with a modern look and feel, improve ease of navigation for stakeholders and offer refreshed content with less ag and governmental jargon.
“We’ve spent the last three years assessing the existing website and how we can improve it for our consumers,” Rutherford said. “We analyzed other state websites, talked to Georgia Department of Agriculture stakeholders and did constituent surveys to ask why they visit the website and what content is and isn’t useful.”
Rutherford also explained how the department is using data from its geographic information systems to make management decisions such as creating GDA inspection territories, connecting GDA resources with needs and doing real-time interactive mapping for emergency situations.
“The application of technology in the past five years has been the good thing to come out of the storms,” Commissioner Black said. “We’ve gone from using clipboards to interactive digital maps.”
Challenges of last two years have revealed vulnerabilities of ag & rural economies
The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, trade wars, rising inflation and interest rates have affected Georgia agriculture and the state’s rural economy during the past two years. The 2021 and 2022 Ag Snapshots reports on Georgia’s agricultural economy, prepared by the UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development, give a hint of the impact.
The 2021 Ag Snapshots, based on the 2019 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, showed that the county-level economic value of all food and fiber produced in Georgia in 2019 had a value of more than $13 billion and the total economic contribution of Georgia’s food and fiber production and related industries represented $70.1 billion in output to Georgia’s $1.12 trillion economy and supported more than 359,220 jobs.
The 2022 Ag Snapshots, based on the 2020 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, shows that the county-level economic value of all food and fiber production in Georgia had a value of $12.2 billion and the total economic contribution of Georgia’s 2020 food and fiber production and related industries had a $69.4 billion impact on Georgia’s $1.1 trillion economy and more than 352,430 jobs in the economy. Next year’s 2023 Ag Snapshots will report the value of ag to Georgia’s economy in 2021 and 2022 values will be reported in 2024.
“We’ve seen in the past two years that Georgia agriculture and our rural economies are vulnerable to the economic shocks we’ve experienced set off by the pandemic,” said Dr. Gupi Munisamy, UGA CAES agricultural marketing professor. “We need to find ways to get our people through these crises and to stable the water. Rural economies need innovation and unique approaches to prosperity.”
Munisamy offered some hope, saying, “Farm income patterns show progress after steep declines.”
While crude oil prices rose from $60 and $70 a barrel in February up to $100/barrel this year, prices are expected to drop back to the $60 to $70/barrel range by the end of the year, Munisamy said. Projections for broiler, cotton and peanut producers looks good he said.
“Long-term projections for broiler producers look great as there will be a demand for meat protein in Southeast Asia as their population grows,” Munisamy said while acknowledging higher feed prices producers are experiencing due to drought conditions in other parts of the country and the threat highly pathogenic avian flu poses to producers.
He said drought in the western U.S. is driving up cotton prices and the forecast is stable for peanut prices.
“Fruits, vegetables and nuts will remain a near and long-term challenge as imports of fruits and veggies will continue to increase over the next ten years,” Munisamy said.
He also said the USDA predicts that net farm income for U.S. farmers will be down for 2022 compared to 2021 without USDA Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments. The 2022 national net farm income is forecast at $113.7 billion down from about $120 billion in 2021 but up from $95.2 billion in 2020. Georgia numbers have not been updated since 2020.
A peach, pecan and timber producer, Dickey said, “Our ag economy is struggling. Farmers always worry about the weather and this year is no exception. Many experienced a freeze in March. Some people are getting too much rain and then we’re also facing rising [input] prices. I paid double for fertilizer and our packaging costs are through the roof. There’s just a lot of challenges we face each and every day.”
CAES placing emphasis on Integrated Precision Ag Technology
“We have a large challenge when we think about the need to increase food production 60 to 70% using the same acres to feed a population increase of 30% by 2050,” said Dr. Nick Place, UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences dean and director. “A lot of this comes down to the use of technology. Ag technology can help producers increase their production efficiency, decrease production costs with targeted fertilizer and pesticide applications, automate harvesting to increase yields and optimize feeding and watering schedules for livestock.”
Place said the CAES is working to establish the UGA Integrative Precision Agriculture Institute to create an environment that fosters innovation with faculty across UGA’s campus and with faculty from other research institutions to develop more technology solutions to address ag challenges.
“It can’t be just us. We have to think about how we can partner with ag organizations and other schools, such as Georgia Tech,” Place said. “Our vision is to have a site at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter for the ag industry to come and show off their new technology and products on a working farm.”
Place said the CAES has a statewide economic impact of $696.3 million, the third largest of all UGA colleges. Farmers who participated in CAES Extension Agricultural & Natural Resource programs estimate they would save or gain $10.31/acre or head of livestock because of local and state programs.
Water, FSA & Ballot initiatives
Georgia Water Planning & Policy Center (GWPPC) Director Mark Masters outlined the Georgia Flow Incentive Trust (GaFIT) and the GWPPC’s deep well project funded through a $50 million grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act awarded to the GWPPC by Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia's Water & Sewer Infrastructure Committee.
Georgia Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Arthur Tripp outlined the agency’s programs and encouraged Georgia farmers to explore the many programs available to them that offer much more than just loans.
Both Masters and Tripp delivered similar presentations earlier in August at the GFB Commodity Conference. To read more visit https://gfb.ag/waterFSA .
Georgia Forestry Association President/CEO Andres Villegas encouraged summit attendees to vote Yes for Referendum A when they go to the polls in November. He said the referendum will give loggers a tax exemption on equipment used to harvest timber similar to exemptions provided to farm equipment.
“We are the number one forestry state in the nation, and we want to stay there,” Villegas said. “This year it cost $107 million more to move timber than it did in 2020.”
Georgia Rep. Sam Watson encouraged Georgians to also support Referendum B that will be on the Georgia ballot in November to extend tax exemptions that currently exist for single family farms to merged farms of non-family members.
“Agriculture is evolving and farmers that aren’t related are buying land together and farm equipment together to share costs,” Watson said. “We’re just trying to level the playing field trying to keep farmers in business.”
Georgia agricultural organizations that sponsored the 2022 Joint Agriculture Committee Chairmen Ag Issues Summit include the: Georgia Poultry Federation, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Milk Producers Inc., Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, Georgia Forestry Association and Georgia Urban Ag Council.