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Posted: July 31, 2016 9:00 a.m.

Agriculture is America

It’s a common truth – yet a thought few of us ever ponder – that if it doesn’t come from the ground it literally doesn’t exist. Despite the vastness of the technology we employ, you must admit that every device that we use or machine that we ride on or fuel that we burn or food that we eat – everything with any substance at all – is either mined or grown from the soil.

Agriculture dwarfs all other industries in Georgia with a $71 billion yearly impact employing over 411,000 people. Tourism, a distant second place, is more than twice as small at $32 billion.

Georgia is #1 in the nation in blueberries, broilers, rye, onions, and peanuts. (We produce almost half of all peanuts in America.) Georgia is second in the nation in cotton, watermelon, and cucumbers and we’re third in bell peppers, peaches and corn. Our largest commodities are poultry at $4 billion, beef at $2 billion, and cotton at $1.3 billion. Ironically, the “Peach State’s” best fruit is now Blueberries. Tobacco, our third best crop 40 years ago, isn’t in the top ten anymore.

Poultry and eggs are easily Georgia’s biggest economic winner and our biggest export out of Savannah, which is one of the main reasons it is now the fourth largest port in America. Contrary to most of America – where imports far exceed exports – Georgia exports just as much as we import, mostly in poultry. A third of everything we produce on a farm in America is exported.

Closer to home, there are 285 farms in Newton County with an economic impact of $17 million. Over 42,000 acres of farmland account for a quarter of the land in Newton, with Hay and Wheat being our best crops. Amazingly, we have 3 million dollars in horses and a 1,000 goats. Over 760 students are enrolled in the Newton County Career Academy, over 750 kids are involved in their Future Farmers of America, and 1,100 are enrolled in 4H with activities that include 4000 children every year.

Farming is a huge economic multiplier. Even though only 1 percent of the US population is farmers, tillers of the earth create the largest economic sector in the entire US economy. Amazingly, 17 percent of every job in America – the selling, shipping, and processing the fruits of our farmer’s labors – is created by Agriculture.  Even more ironic is the fact that the farmer only makes 16 cents of every dollar from the food he grows. The rest of that 84 cents goes to buyers and sellers who have little idea where the food they eat comes from.

Agriculture is science. Today’s farmers produce an unbelievable 262 percent more food than in 1950 with only 2 percent of the seeds and fertilizers. Taken another way, one farmer could feed 14 people back then; now he can feed 144 people. That's astounding.

Agriculture is the largest business in the world, at about 10 percent of the total world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $4.8 trillion a year. It is one of the few places where the U.S. is still an economic leader, and our biggest potential for future growth. The world is adding 3 billion people during the next 40 years. Those 3 billion people will want something to eat.

FFA and 4H produce some of the finest young people I’ve met. People who complain about the future generation should take a look at these energetic, polite, hard-working students. Raising a 250 pound hog takes a lot of responsibility and a daily discipline that most city kids haven’t had to deal with. Imagine the maturity a 70 pound girl learns when she leads around the 1,300 pound calf she’s raised? Most folks complain that America doesn’t produce anything anymore. Agriculture is the huge exception. It’s a thriving economic engine that we need more – not less – of our children to engage in.

Does Newton need Agriculture? Yes, we do.

Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.

 

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