(Note: The following is the first of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
Starting a series on the history of agriculture in Georgia, it makes sense to see where Georgia’s farm economy stands now by talking to the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture, Gary Black.
When Black was elected commissioner in 2011, he described the Department of Agriculture as being in the “technology dark ages.” His first task: Replace the former paperwork nightmare required to acquire Georgia agricultural licenses with a fully-integrated website, where almost all “Ag” business could be conducted online.
Still a working farmer himself, Black said that almost all of even the biggest Georgia farms are still family owned and operated. He gave as examples Bill Brim’s Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, Kent Hamilton’s Southern Valley Farms in Moultrie and Brooklet’s own Hunter Cattle Company.
Black said he is most proud of how his agency has built up the “Georgia Grown” farm-fresh produce program and marketed it successfully. People around the nation — and, indeed, the world — now think of Georgia when they think of fresh produce.
How can this be so? Well, because in 2013, Georgia farmers produced 21,151 hundred pounds, or cwt. — a unit measurement equaling 100 pounds — of fresh market produce, making Georgia the fourth-largest grower of fresh produce in the nation overall (behind only the states of California, Florida and Arizona).
In fact, in 2013, Georgia produced the nation’s second-largest harvests of four fresh market crops: spring onions (2,997 cwt.), only smaller than Texas; and cucumbers (1,904 cwt.), snap beans (616 cwt.) and watermelons (7,050 cwt.), only smaller than Florida for all three.
Georgia had very large harvests of other fresh market produce as well: sweet corn, the third-largest crop; bell peppers and cantaloupes, the fourth-largest crops; cabbages, the fifth-largest crop; squash, the sixth-largest crop; and fresh tomatoes, which was the eleventh-largest crop in the nation.
Black said that while virtually everybody knows that Georgia is a major fresh peach producer, with the third-largest crop in the nation, few people know that Georgia has now become the nation’s third-largest producer of fresh blueberries.
The following articles in this series will show both how Georgia managed to become the largest producer in the nation of a number of very important crops at different times; and how Georgia once grew significant quantities of other crops, which are no longer grown in the state.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.