Ag News

Georgia Department of Agriculture celebrates 150 years

by Jay Stone

Posted on Mar 14, 2024 at 10:14 AM

It may be difficult to fathom now, but in 1874, the establishment of the Georgia Department of Agriculture was controversial. So much so that, on Feb. 28 of that year, the Georgia House of Representatives produced a tie vote on the bill to establish the department, leaving it up to then-House Speaker Augustus Bacon to cast the deciding vote.

Bacon, for whom Bacon County is named, voted to establish the department, and Georgia became the first state to have a department of agriculture.

On Feb. 28, 2024, many of the department’s employees gathered in the state capitol rotunda with current members of the agriculture committees in the Georgia House and Senate, and agricultural stakeholders from across the state to mark 150 years.

A bound copy of the 1874 law was on display. The official birthday cake was a seven-tiered creation emblazoned with key documents noting the GDA’s history. Pieces of another cake were served by the UGA Hospitality and Food Industry Management students.

“Today we’re not only here to celebrate the department’s 150 years of service to the people of this state, but we’re here to celebrate the vital role that agriculture has played and continues to play in the success of our state,” Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper. “The story of agriculture in our state is rich with tradition and history, and it’s a story that’s wroth telling.”

Current House Speaker Jon Burns assured the crowd that the department is here to stay.

“If that vote were to come around again now, the result would be the same,” Burns said.

Not that there was any question, but Gov. Brian Kemp, a staunch supporter of Georgia’s largest economic sector, said the department continues as a vital component of state government.

“At 150 years old, our department of agriculture has been an institution that Georgians have depended on for generations,” Kemp said. “Obviously its functions have changed with the times, but it's my belief that the institution's importance in our state has never been higher.”

Kemp noted that the state budget includes funding for the GDA’s consumer protection program and a state agriculture lab in Tifton.

“The truth is that no matter how many industries grow across our state, we will always need agriculture as our foundation on which our economy is built,” Kemp said.

The event included recognitions of the state’s oldest and youngest farmers, as well as the 2024 Georgia Farmer of the Year. Proclamations were made recognizing St. Elmo Harrison of Whigham as the state's oldest farmer and 2024 Georgia Farmer of the Year Bruce Redmond of Springfield. Neither Harrison nor Redmond were able to attend, leaving a brief spotlight for seven-year-old Kendall Rae Johnson of aGROWKulture Farm in Atlanta, as the state’s youngest farmer.

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