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Commissioner explains role of Georgia Department of Agriculture
Commissioner Gary Black uses a hat as a prop while explaining the Georgia Grown program during Effingham Day at the Capitol on Jan. 28. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

ATLANTA — It isn’t necessary to ask Gary Black if he enjoys his job. He exudes enthusiasm for his position as Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture.

“Thank you for letting me do this job,” he said during his opening remarks during Effingham Day at the Capitol on Jan 28. 

An unpretentious public servant, Black took his opportunity at Floyd Towers to describe what the Department of Agriculture does. He was recently elected to head it for a third time.

“We wear many different hats,” he said.

The first hat is food safety.

“We have about 70 inspectors all over this state protecting the integrity of the food supply for you and me,” Black said. “They do it everyday with a deep passion. We set as a goal eight years ago that we want to be the best at everything we do.”

When it comes to food safety, the department has achieved its goal.

“I haven’t reported this to some of my members and friends in the legislature but — this past June, by the American Association of Food and Drug Officials, which is all the public people in food safety, not just ag but public health all across the country — your Georgia Department Food  Safety Division was ranked the number one program in America.

“We get jacked up about that because food safety is a big deal.”

Black also said pest control in the state falls under this department’s purview.

“If you have a termite letter on your home, that’s us,” Black said. “We aren’t the termites. We back the letter up with the company.

“We are responsible for all their training. We are (also) responsible for the licensing of all those products that might actually be underneath your kitchen sink.”

The Department of Agriculture also regulates the sale of seeds and plants in the state.

“Those seeds have been tested in a germination chamber in Tifton,” he said. “Thousands of tests are going on everyday to protect the integrity of the industry.”

Black discussed his favorite part of his job  — touting Georgia products — last.

“People want to know where their food comes from, they want a relationship with the people who are growing it and they want to support what is grown at home,” he said. “That’s whole impetus behind our Georgia Grown program. That’s why we’ve spent so much time with it.”

Black said farmers, processors and timber growers can obtain licenses that allow them to affix the Georgia Grown logo to their products.

“We are getting this close to having one thousand license holders in the state,” Black said, holding his thumb and index finger millimeters apart. 

Georgia Grown products are being sold internationally. Black’s department has 12 trade missions planned with 131 booths available for state companies.

“Our next international show is in Taiwan,” he said. “We are trying to build another base, particularly for pecans. We’ve put all our pecans in one basket — in China.

“That’s good — we need to get that market back, and we will get it back — but at the same time we need to diversify our portfolio and that’s something the legislature has allowed us to do and I am grateful for that.”

In closing, Black again thanked the audience for allowing him to serve as commissioner.

“I’ve talked about just some of the hats we wear, just some of the things we do,” he said, “but y’all let me do it and I am very grateful for that. We’ve got 618 folks that work hard for you everyday and they are grateful, too.”