Leadership Bartow looks inside Ga.'s largest industry
by Matt Shinall
Apr 12, 2013 | 2375 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bonnie Plant Manager Daniel Dawson, right, leads Leadership Bartow participants on a tour of the facility. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bonnie Plant Manager Daniel Dawson, right, leads Leadership Bartow participants on a tour of the facility. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
As the Leadership Bartow class of 2013 wraps up with the final of eight program days held each month since September, the leadership development program finished the year with a look at the state’s largest industry — agriculture.

With 10.2 million acres of farmland, Georgia’s economy is fueled by farm products totaling $12 billion each year lending raw material to an even larger part of the state’s total economy.

“Just the actual on-farm production value is worth $12 billion to our state economy every year,” said Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese. “Then when you start adding in the food and fiber sector and extrapolating that in terms of jobs and added value to those products, it gets almost overwhelming as to the size of the industry in Georgia.

“If you add in that food and fiber sector, everything from processing to grocery stores and that sort of thing, you’re looking at a $92 billion impact on our state economy. We all have to eat, food is a big deal and it always will be.”

On a local level, Bartow County has a rich history in agriculture and continues to reap the benefits of its agricultural community. The Bartow County farm-gate production value is estimated at $84.6 million, which also adds to a greater contribution in food and fiber, from Anheuser-Busch to grocery stores and restaurants, leading to a $1.3 billion impact.

Pugliese introduced Leadership Bartow participants to a state and local overview of the agriculture industry as well as a rundown of the mission and services provided by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension before the group toured several local agricultural sites.

Participants first traveled to Euharlee to learn about the science behind apiculture, or beekeeping, from Bartow County beekeeper Tony Segura. After lunch, a panel discussion was hosted by Cass High’s agriculture program and Future Farmers of America club. The panel included guests representing various aspects of local agriculture production, including poultry, cattle, alpaca and forestry.

Tours continued after lunch at Shady Grove Farm, a cow-calf operation in White; Bonnie plants, a Bartow County nursery; and Pettit Creek Farms, where agritourism can be seen bringing guests into Cartersville.

“It’s important to educate people that don’t have an agriculture background on the importance of the industry. We all eat — whether we’re vegetarians or we like meat — it impacts everyone,” said event organizer Raborn Taylor III. “I would encourage the residents of Bartow County to explore the resources we have here for ag products, including honey and industries we might not normally associate with Bartow County, and just to spend some time familiarizing themselves with opportunities we have here in our own backyard.”

Among the Bartow County agriculture sectors previously unknown to many participating was a growing number of alpacas, including Southern Estate Alpacas, and the Bonnie Plants nursery in White. The Bartow County nursery is an affiliate of Bonnie Plants, the nation’s largest vegetable plant wholesaler, and operates as a vegetable transplant facility from which vegetable plants are shipped to retailers across all of north Georgia. The local nursery has no retail operations, but supplies every retail outlet in the state north of Atlanta. Last year, the nursery produced 300,000 trays of vegetable plants.

Presentations throughout the last program day of the 2013 Leadership Bartow curriculum highlighted some of the opportunities and obstacles facing the industry. While expenses increase for everyday materials and supplies, so is the cost farmers incur in remaining compliant with state and federal regulations. As margins shrink and rural land is developed, farmers also face the challenge of producing enough food to feed a growing world.

“In the year 2007, the Earth’s population became more urban than rural for the first time in human history and what’s interesting to me about that is that people are becoming more and more removed from agriculture and the farm. Younger generations today are now two or three generations removed from the farm and people don’t know where their food comes from,” Pugliese said. “I think we always need to have agriculture in our community no matter how urban we get, because people need to know where their food comes from and it’s an important part of maintaining our sustainability.

“If you look at a timeline of human history, it took all of human history until the year 1800 to reach the first billion people on Earth and then in 130 years from 1800, we doubled the world population and it continues to double now at an increasing rate of about 2 billion every 25 years. Easily in the next 50 years and in your children’s lifetime, we’re going to be looking at 10 to 12 billion people on Earth. The big question is, ‘How many people can we sustain?’ ‘How many people can we feed?’ — and that’s something no one can really answer, but we know that science and agriculture will be on the forefront of solving those issues.”

To learn more about local agriculture, call the Bartow County Extension Office at 770-387-5142 or for information on the agriculture industry in Georgia, visit www.gaagriculture.com or www.caes.uga.edu.