While some Georgia farmers are expected to see good prices this year, the various costs involved in bringing their products to the market will likely be up, too. Also, farmers will continue to face drought and worker issues in 2012.
These points were brought up Monday by speakers at the 2012 Georgia Ag Forecast meeting at the Georgia Farm Bureau headquarters in Macon. It was the first of six such meetings to be held around the state in the coming weeks.
“Agriculture this year is, as all of you know, is changing more rapidly than probably any time of our lives,” said Scott Angle, dean and director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. “Input prices and costs will be an issue. ... I feel very good about the future of agriculture. In a lot of different ways, Georgia is becoming a breadbasket not just for the United States, but for the entire world.”
Agriculture is still Georgia’s largest industry, Extension Economist Nathan Smith said to the gathering of about 100.
Agriculture here includes 65 products and its farm gate value in 2010 was valued at about $12 billion, Smith said. The farm gate value is the net value of products when it leaves the farm after marketing costs have been deducted.
Then after direct and indirect value is added, which includes manufacturing processing and other related businesses, agriculture contributes nearly $70 billion for the state’s economy.
“It is likely our total farm gate value for 2011 will be higher than 2010,” Smith said.
This year’s growth in the economy is expected to be slow in Georgia and in the U.S., he said.
Other points Smith made are:
Commodity prices peaked in 2011 and remain relatively high, but variable.
Input prices/cost continue to rise.
Weak dollar helps Georgia and ag exports, but growth is limited. The European crisis is a “strong headwind” to growth.
There are more policy uncertainties: election-year politics vs. needed fiscal policy.
Another dry spring has greater potential to impact production.
“I do see rents going up this year in row crop agriculture, in particular,” Smith said. “But land rental rates vary by county.”
Last year, Georgia had a big shift in cotton, he said. There was 270,000 more acres of cotton, which came out of peanut and soybean acreage. Corn acreage also increased.
“I think this year, if we have good planting weather ... we will probably see more corn -- corn will hang on to the acreage it had last year,” he said. “And peanuts will increase and probably take it from cotton (acreage).”
This year, animal and crop prices should remain relatively high, “but this could be the year we have a peak in prices, so eventually the market responds and this could be the year we see big increases in production.”
Nowell Berreth, an agribusiness lawyer with Alston & Bird law firm in Atlanta, talked about the H-2A program, which allows immigrant agricultural workers in the U.S. on a temporary basis.
Several proposals are in the works by Congress to reform the H-2A Program, which was part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Some of the reasons producers say H-2A needs reforming:
It is only available for seasonal work, which doesn’t help the dairy, livestock, poultry and ginning industries.
The regulations are burdensome and cumbersome.
Farmers must hire every domestic worker sent from the Georgia Department of Labor, regardless of experience or lack of experience.
Farmers must provide transportation to and from workers’ temporary homes to the work place and transportation to the workers’ next work place when the contract has ended.
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black encouraged attendees to remind their Congress representatives to solve the farm worker problem.
Last year, Georgia’s Legislature approved House Bill 87 -- a tough new immigration law -- and Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law in May.
“Even without House Bill 87, had it never been considered, the responsibility for a 21st century guest worker program lies with Congress and it has for 20 years,” Black said. “Farmers tell me: ‘I would like a local work force that’s sober, that’s reliable, that comes to work on time. ... I would be happy to hire them all, please tell me where I can find them.’”
He challenged attendees to use their “spears of influence” to get a guest worker program that works for everyone and not just a select few.
“If we assume that Congress is not going to do anything about guest workers in 2012, you can count on it. They won’t,” Black said. “We need to remind (Congress) ... to step up and solve this problem. ... The guest worker program we have now does not work.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.