Agriculture and Georgia Grown is topic at Rotary

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black visited Rotary this week to speak on the challenges and changes being made in the field of Agriculture.

He wanted to make two points. The first being that despite what the news would have us think, the world does not revolve around Washington, D.C. At least that has always been what he thought, but now he is making an exception for the State of Georgia Agriculture, now that former Governor Sonny Perdue has been named the Secretary for U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with other Georgians who have been named to important posts in Washington. “Never have we been so well represented.”

Black continued to speak, touching on the issues of regulation of pesticides, saying there have been many barriers between the USDA and the offices of Pesticides Management. He believes past decisions have been made based on emotions rather than looking for the facts. “It has to be based on facts and be science based. Prove it,” he says.

Black and his department will be testifying before Congress on Tuesday on the reauthorization of federal pesticide laws and working with Secretary Perdue.

He says that the state of Georgia has become the Vegetable Basket for the East Coast. “We are very strong producers of vegetables and they are trying to connect the dots between vegetables and feed. The 2010 Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act” in what he called a knee jerk reaction to some things that happened ‘not too far from here.’

The Federal Government is gearing up for the Food and Drug Administration to have as much to do with vegetable production as agriculture does. “Sweeping new food safety rules are coming down like a waterfall,” he claims.

“We will be calling on the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services for a 180 day freeze on implementation of those regulations until the administration’s people can get a full understanding on what is going on, cause right now it is a very dangerous and precarious situation for the agriculture producers.” He continued by saying, “If you don’t think this won’t impact the local economy in Decatur County, what would happen if all of a sudden the health of the vegetable industry were to be compromised? It would most certainly stunt our ability to grow.”

Black says the consumer today wants to know more about their food than ever before in our history. After speaking with top chefs in Atlanta who say they chiefly want to know where it comes from, the state agricultural community is trying to build on that through the Georgia Grown products label.  About 600 businesses and farms are now using the logo.

The Georgia Grown products logo is being promoted with businesses such as Subway Restaurants who buy lots of green peppers and cucumbers. They also contract with grocers who set up produce displays featuring Georgia Grown vegetables. Those who wish to display the label must purchase a license to use it and those funds are poured back into marketing, according to Black.

An impact is being felt on Decatur County. On June 3, a Decatur County product will be at the James Beard Foundation dinner in New York City when Decatur County produced pecan oil will be on the menu and introduced to the food world.

Georgia Grown is also being used cooperatively with the school systems in Georgia. Debbie Purcell of the Decatur County Schools Lunch program has been very involved with implementing test kitchens in the schools, trying approximately 40 different recipes to see what the kids will eat. By the year 2020 Black believes 20 percent of the school menus will consist of Georgia grown products.

Black closed with the statement that “Agriculture in Georgia makes life better for all of us.”