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Agriculture Week spotlights contributions farming makes to Georgia March 14-20
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Georgia farmers not only grow our food and clothes but they also make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. 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.

To celebrate the industry, Gov. Sonny Perdue has designated March 14-20 as Georgia Agriculture Week and has designated March 16 as Georgia Ag Awareness Day, when his Agricultural Advisory Committee will host an Ag Awareness Celebration at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta. Georgia’s weeklong celebration coincides with National Agriculture Week. National Agriculture Day is March 20.

"By celebrating Agriculture Week and Ag Day, we hope to help Georgians understand that their food is being grown by farmers, like myself, who take pride in caring for our animals and protecting the soil, water and air on our farms that’s necessary to grow nutritious, safe food for our public consumers," said Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, who is a member of Gov. Perdue’s Agricultural Advisory Committee.

Representatives from every segment of Georgia agriculture will participate in the statewide ag celebration that starts at 11 a.m. with food, music and exhibits highlighting the many facets of the industry. Farm equipment and a live milking demonstration will be displayed outside the depot.

The five district winners of the Governor’s Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Award will be recognized during a program beginning at 12:30 p.m., when a state winner will be named. This award honors farmers who have adopted farming practices that protect the soil, water and air on their farms. The district winners are Early D. Barrs of Bleckley County, Stanley Corbett of Echols County, Jamie Jordan of Floyd County, Wayne McKinnon of Coffee County and Keith Nichols of Stephens County. Gov. Perdue will also announce winners of the Flavor of Georgia Food Contest, which recognizes food products made with Georgia-grown ingredients.

Georgia agriculture makes a significant contribution to the state’s economy. 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, a report released by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED) shows.

"Agriculture not only produces food and clothes, but it also provides jobs, which is very important in our current economic situation," Duvall added. "Without farmers, Georgia can’t grow!"

According to the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED), the most recent statistics show that in 2008, Georgia agriculture had a total economic impact of $65 billion on the state economy and created more than 351,000 jobs.

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

The top 10 agricultural commodities grown in Georgia, based on their 2008 farm gate value, are: broilers, eggs, cotton, peanuts, timber, horses, beef, dairy, greenhouse horticulture products and corn. The farm gate value of these commodities, the value of the commodities farmers sell, are collected and ranked by the UGA CAED.

"Most people don’t have direct contact with farms, so there are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there these days," Duvall said. "This week gives consumers a chance to learn the truth about agriculture and how their food 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 one percent of U.S. farms.

The average farmer produces enough food and fiber for 155 people in the United States and abroad. This is a good thing because less land is devoted to farming than it was a generation ago and the number of farmers continues to decline. Farms that specialize in selling locally grown food directly to consumers are a great asset for communities, but there is still a need for farms that efficiently produce large quantities of food to feed our growing population.

"The world’s population is expected to increase from six billion to 11 billion people by 2050, which means world food demand will almost double in the next forty years," Duvall said. "To grow enough food, farmers will have to continue to rely on scientific advances that improve our yields and the quality of our crops and livestock. Decisions related to how food is produced need to be based on research, not misconceptions. "

Farmers do a lot to ensure that the food that reaches consumers is safe, like providing adequate food, water and medical care to protect the health of their animals.

"I understand that the chickens and cattle I raise on my farm are going to end up on the plates of families just like mine," Duvall said. "I do everything I can to ensure my animals are well cared for so that they produce a healthy food product not only for the public, but for my family, too."

Farmers also provide shelter appropriate to their farming operation to protect their animals from disease, injury and predators. National and state quality assurance programs provide farmers with guidelines for the production of safe, wholesome animals, including recommendations on necessary animal handling and facilities.

"The standard of care we provide our animals and production practices we follow is based on the recommendations of animal scientists at leading agricultural colleges who have conducted research to determine the best way to raise healthy, productive animals," Duvall said.

Founded in 1937, the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization. Its volunteer members actively participate in activities that promote agriculture awareness to their non-farming neighbors.