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Governor proclaims Ag Awareness Day
State to mark Agriculture Week next week
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Gov. Sonny Perdue has proclaimed March 15-21 as Georgia Agriculture Week to celebrate the industry. Gov. Perdue has designated March 17 as Georgia Ag Awareness Day. Georgia’s weeklong celebration coincides with National Agriculture Week. National Agriculture Day is March 20.

Georgia agriculture makes a significant contribution to the state’s economy. In 2007, Georgia agriculture had a total economic impact of $58.5 billion on the state economy and created more than 389,000 jobs, a report released by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED) shows.

Food and fiber production and related businesses represent the largest or second largest segment of all goods and services produced in two-thirds of Georgia’s counties. One in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or agriculture-related fields.

“Georgia agriculture not only feeds and clothes the citizens of our state, but it also provides jobs, which is very important in our current economic crisis,” Stuart Exley, Effingham County Farm Bureau president, said.

Gov. Perdue and his Agricultural Advisory Committee will host a celebration March 17 at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta to spotlight Georgia agriculture. Gov. Perdue will recognize the five district winners of his Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Award and announce the state winner. This award honors farmers who have adopted farming practices that protect the soil, water and air on their farms.

The district winners are Tom Bradbury of Bleckley County, Terry Chandler of Madison County, Will Harris of Early County, Billy Max James of Gilmer County and Wayne McKinnon of Coffee County.  Gov. Perdue will also announce winners of the Flavor of Georgia Food Contest, which recognizes food products made with Georgia-grown ingredients.

“It's easy to take agriculture for granted because the shelves at our local grocery store are always full of a variety of nutritious foods,” Exley said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there these days. This week gives consumers a chance to learn where their food originates and how it is grown.”

For example, it’s a common misconception that large corporate farms produce half of the food Americans consume. USDA statistics show non-family corporations produce only six percent of the food grown in the U.S.  Family partnerships or family-owned corporations produce the remaining 94 percent of American-grown food. Farm families often form partnerships or corporations for legal and business reasons, but they’re still family farms, not factory farms. Non-family corporations only own 1 percent of U.S. farms.

Some people have the impression that farmers use a lot of chemicals in growing food. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that homeowners apply chemical pesticides at a rate eight times higher per acre than farmers do. Homeowners apply chemical fertilizers at a rate three times higher per acre than farmers. Runoff from yards often runs into municipal sewer systems, which is discharged back into rivers and lakes.

Because of the high cost of using herbicides (chemicals that control weeds), pesticides (chemicals that control insects) and fertilizer, farmers use these tools sparingly. The reason they use them at all is because they are necessary for growing high-yielding, healthy crops. Farmers are using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer, and herbicides and insecticides that control weeds and pests to local soil conditions. This boosts crop yields using the least amount of crop protectants needed.

The efficiency of farmers benefits consumers economically. According to the USDA, Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world. While the average American spends less than 10 percent of his disposable personal income for food, French consumers spend 14 percent; Chinese consumers spend 35 percent, and Indonesian consumers spend 46 percent.

Farmers are producing meat lower in fat and cholesterol. This has resulted in retail cuts that are 15 percent leaner, giving consumers better value for their dollar and added health benefits.

Some organizations that oppose livestock production maintain that the world can support more vegetarians than meat eaters. The fact is, if everyone in the world became a vegetarian, there would be less food, not more.

Information provided by the United Nations and the Central Intelligence Agency shows that only 15.1 percent of the world’s land is suitable for producing plant crops, however, 56.3 percent of the world’s land can support grazing animals. Cattle and other animals eat forages that humans cannot digest.

Fifty to 70 percent of a cow’s feedlot diet is inedible to humans, according to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. Cattle are also often fed byproducts produced by processing human food such as brewer’s grain from beer, citrus pulp or cottonseed meal. In the U.S., only 2.6 pounds of grain are used to produce one pound of beef.

Livestock production has also been falsely accused of contributing to higher methane levels in the atmosphere. The EPA’s 2006 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks shows that energy production and landfills account for two-thirds of methane emissions in the U.S. The report showed livestock production accounts for only 2.58 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas production.  

“Studies show that by 2050, the world’s population will rise from six billion to about 11 billion people. This means world food demand could double in the next 40 years,” Exley said. “To accomplish this, we need to make decisions related to food production based on research, not misconceptions.”

According to the USDA, there are almost 48,000 farms in Georgia that produce annual sales of more than $1,000 with an average farm size of 212 acres. Georgia has 10.5 million acres of farmland.  

Georgia ranks first in the nation in the production of broiler chickens, peanuts and pecans according to the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service.  Nationwide, Georgia is also a leading producer of watermelons,  cucumbers, tomatoes and squash produced for fresh markets, rye, snap beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, cantaloupes, sweet onions, blueberries, cotton and cabbage.

Statewide, the top 20 agricultural commodities, based on their 2007 farm gate value, are: broilers, cotton, eggs, timber, horses, beef, peanuts, dairy, greenhouse horticulture products and container horticulture products. The farm gate value of these commodities, the value of the commodities farmers sell, are collected and ranked by the UGA CAED.

The Effingham County Farm Bureau was established in 1957. It currently has about 3,600 members and is affiliated with the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation headquartered in Macon.

Founded in 1937, Georgia Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general farm organization.