Farmers urged to consider exporting crops in 2013

Published 7:11 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Local farmers and other agriculture-related business people learned a lot about the projected future of agriculture, during the 2013 Georgia Ag Forecast, held at the Cloud Livestock Facility in Bainbridge on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Dr. J. Scott Angle, the dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told those in attendance that the world must double its food production by the year 2050. He noted that exporting Georgia-grown crops to other nations is not just an economic opportunity, but also a “moral obligation.”

“I believe that if we have the capacity to help feed the world, then we should do what we can to help,” he said.

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Mitchell May, Decatur County’s extension coordinator, gave a recap of how important agriculture is to the county. He said the county has 94,000 acres of cropland, 80 percent of which is irrigated, and that Decatur County ranks third in the state in total grower value.

Although final figures were not yet available for the year 2012, May pointed out that Decatur County added a complete “farm gate value” of $204 million to the economy in 2011. Most of that value came from row crop farming, which accounted for $113 million in economic impact.

“In my opinion, 2011 was the best production year ever, and I know a lot of you will agree with me,” May said.

Thursday’s keynote speaker was Kathe Falls, the director of the Georgia Department of Economic Development International Trade Team. Falls discussed the dozens of resources that are available to farmers who wish to explore how to export their products to overseas markets.

Falls noted that exporting farm crops will create more jobs and a larger economic impact, because there are workers who are needed to schedule freight shipments, transport the goods, work out logistical manners, and other necessary jobs. She noted that Georgia is the 12th leading exporting state in the U.S., and ranks No. 1 in several agricultural categories, including wood pulp, poultry and pecans.

The largest foreign market for Georgia farm products is Canada, with a 17-percent market share. Other large importers are China and Hong Kong (11 percent) and Mexico (7 percent). Falls also pointed out the 97 percent of U.S. exporters are small- to medium-sized businesses, and even include small-scale farming operations. One in every three acres on U.S. farms grows crops that will eventually be exported, Falls said.

The audience then got the chance to hear from a southwest Georgia farmer who has already been successful in exporting some of his products. Richard Barnhill, the president of Mazur and Hockman, Inc., in Albany, Ga., said that his company has recently significantly increased its exporting to China.

Barnhill said that peanuts are popular in China, but most farmers in that country only grow enough for subsistence living. As a result, there is a considerable niche that can be met by Georgia peanut farmers who might need to find a market for surplus crops.

“Our Chinese customers don’t buy 10 truckloads of peanuts, they buy 200 truckloads,” he said. “They’re very interested in the quality of American peanuts, and especially Georgian peanuts.”
Barnhill said that farmers who get into the exporting business will have a learning curve to overcome, but once the system is in place it can be a lucrative opportunity.

“It’s not like they can come over and pick it up with a pick-up truck,” he said. “It’s not easy, believe me. It takes 10 times the effort of growing for domestic markets, but the benefit is well worth it.”

The final speaker of the day was Dr. Nathan Smith, extension economist for the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics for the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Smith presented his economic forecast for agriculture in 2013, breaking down each forecast by crop.

He noted that the U.S. had a record yield for peanuts in 2012, due to both increased acreage and improved production and efficiency. He noted that some of the surplus can be exported to China and other overseas markets, but it will not be enough to completely solve the problem.

Smith estimated that the market for peanuts in 2013 will start at $400 or lower, but may improve by harvest time if production goes down and demand increases.

Smith also provided his “most likely” outlook for the contracted price of various Georgia crops. Those forecasts included: peanuts ($400 to $450 per ton), cotton ($0.75 to $0.85 a bale), corn ($5.35 to $6 per bushel), soybeans ($11.50 to $12.50 per bushel), and wheat ($7 to $8 per bushel).

At the end of his presentation, Smith provided an “outlook summary” for the 2013 year overall. It stated:

• Overall, it appears that 2013 will be a favorable year for Georgia and U.S. agriculture.

• Crop prices peaked in 2012 and will slowly decline (with the exception of peanuts). The potential for drought in the Midwest could again affect contracted prices.

• U.S. red meat and poultry production could substantially decline in 2013.

• Beef cattle prices should be stable, or higher, in 2013. Dairy prices should stabilize later in the year.

Andy Bell, the president of the Decatur County Farm Bureau, thanked the speakers for their insights.

“More often than not, they are correct on their projections,” Bell told the local farmers in attendance. “Pay attention to what [Smith] says. We appreciate you all coming out today, and Farm Bureau was happy to be a sponsor of this forecast.”

The Georgia Ag Forecast is a UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences program, made possible through an endowment from the Georgia Farm Bureau and support from the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

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