Agriculture remains the No. 1 economic sector in the Peach State despite years of drought.
Ag business is big business, Curt Lacy, an extension economist with Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Georgia said Tuesday. About 150 people, including county extension agents, college and political representatives and farmers, attended the annual 2013 Georgia Ag Forecast meeting at Georgia Farm Bureau in Macon.
Georgia has 65 products with significant farm value production, Lacy said.
Last year we had almost $13 billion (farm value), which was up $1 billion over the previous year, he said. But then also consider the indirect impact from jobs that are created from trucking to processing. ... When you add all that up we are somewhere between $70 (billion) and $75 billion in the state of Georgia of direct and indirect value.
In 2011, the overall largest part of the farm values in Georgia -- 40 percent -- came from poultry.
Even though farm values are up, the thing we cant ignore is drought, especially in the Midwest corn belt, Lacy said.
Much of the area depends on snow and winter rains to recharge ground water and that hasnt happened yet, he said. They are starting the year off behind. ... It creates a challenge for us when planting time comes. Its a big, big question mark. It makes a difference if we have $5 (a bushel) corn or $8 (a bushel) corn.
However, 2012 was an exceptional year for Georgia row crop yields and some records were broken. For example:
Corn, 180 bushels per acre. The previous record was 158 bushels per acre in 2011.
Cotton, 1,027 pounds per acre. The previous record was 902 pounds per acre in 2009.
Peanuts, 4,500 pounds per acre. The previous record was 3,625 pounds per acre in 2011.
And prices were up last year.
If you were a crop farmer, last year was a really good year, Lacy said. Im not saying well be able to replicate that this year, but as we look at projected prices for this coming year, I think we are still looking at some pretty favorable prices.
That sounded good to Dooly County farmer Clegg Griggs who, with his family, farms about 2,200 acres of cotton, corn, wheat and rye.
While what he heard was not a big surprise, Griggs, 35, said he likes to attend the annual meetings to make sure there is no bad forecast.
For 2013, agriculture growth is expected to be slow but steady in Georgia and the U.S.
A lot of this depends on what happens with the economy, Lacy said. We can expect most food prices to remain relatively stable, again depending on what happens with the weather. ... One of the good things we do have going for us is, at least this year and weve had it for the past several years, is the weak U.S. dollar. ... When we have a weak dollar, it makes our products more affordable to our international customers. So thats good for us from an export standpoint. ... But a weak dollar hurts imports.
Al Pearson, owner of Pearson Farm in Crawford County, said he and his son grow about 1,500 acres of peaches and about 2,500 acres of pecans. Pearson Farm has been indirectly involved with exporting pecans to China since 1998 when they sold 100,000 pounds of the nuts to a Chinese company.
In 2007, China purchased 22 million pounds of pecans from the U.S., Pearson said.
2007 was a good year, he said. So we got our foot in the door, and they liked the product. ... This year, it looks like (the U.S.) is going to try to ship 90-some-odd million pounds of pecans (to China). Thats huge. ... How did that happen? China had an exploding buying power in the middle class ... and China had a receptive governmental environment.
KatheFalls, director of the Georgia Department of Economic Development International Trade Team, talked about the impact of agricultural exports. While her latest figures were from 2011, the data so far indicate Georgia maintained its position last year, she said.
Georgias exports reached $34.7 billion in 2011, a 141 percent increase during the past 10 years. Georgia is the 12th leading export state, and the top exports include wood pulp, poultry, pecans, textile floor coverings, paper and paperboard, and aluminum.
The top agricultural export markets were Canada (17 percent), Hong Kong (11 percent) and Mexico (7 percent).
One in 3 acres on U.S. farms is planted for export, Falls said. Thirty-nine percent of exports through the Port of Savannah were ag commodities.
Getting involved in exporting farm products is not something that can be done quickly, she said.
It could take three months or six months but most often its one year or two years, she said. You have to be committed to get into it for the long haul.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.