Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black hopes Effingham County businesses will get on board with a growing initiative in his department.
Black spoke at the Effingham County Young Farmers’ monthly meeting Thursday and promoted Georgia Grown, the state Department of Agriculture’s marketing and economic development program.
“Never before has the consuming public been standing before us crying for local product as they are today,” Black said.
Georgia Grown was established several years ago but was in shambles when Black took office following the November 2010 election, he told the audience. He said the program consisted of little more than a “hideous logo” and some television commercials, without state agriculture officials tracking where the logo was being used or having a strategy for buying the TV advertising.
“Yet repeatedly there was $250,000, $300,000 a year that went straight to the program, but no earthly idea where there was any accountability whether it did any good,” Black said. “And people, quite frankly, didn’t even use it.”
The Department of Agriculture re-launched Georgia Grown in January 2012. Though it came with a new logo, Black said the revamped program went beyond “the state giving out stickers, hoping people use it.”
Rather, the department developed a business plan that puts money back into the program. Any agricultural producer or food, fiber, forestry or agricultural business that wants to be identified as a Georgia Grown business can buy an annual license to use the logo.
The licenses range from $100 to $25,000 and “we have members at all levels now,” Black said.
“After two years of pushing this, we’re over 400 farms and businesses that are now using this logo on their product,” Black said. “Kentucky’s has been in business for 10 years and they give people a logo, and they have 231 people.”
Black could not find any Effingham County businesses listed as Georgia Grown license holders, but he hopes that will change.
“I think some of our brightest days (in agriculture) are still ahead,” he said.
Another much-needed improvement in the department, according to Black, was the “monumental task” of upgrading its Web site. Rather than paying someone to improve the site, the work was done in-house by department employees.
“It’s not perfect,” Black said of the new Web site, “but I can tell you that monumental task is complete – 75 different licenses or interactions that you have with this department are now all online.”
Meanwhile, Black said, the agriculture department has cut its staff from 633 employees to 520 and its budget by $9 million since he took office.
“That’s not all bad,” Black said. “It’s changing that mindset of what ought to happen in government.”
He added, “We’ve got the best farmers, the best land, the best port, best land-grant universities, best businesses, best state in the union to do business and the best opportunities — you better have the best department of agriculture. That’s where we’re headed.”