By Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
Since the week of March 19 – 23 is Agricultural Awareness Week in Georgia, I want to point out just how much agriculture affects our county, state and country. Agriculture in Georgia is the largest industry in the state, with a farm gate value at over $13.75 billion. When many people think about agriculture, their thoughts tend to go to South Georgia where there are thousands of acres of peanuts, cotton, pecans, and vegetables, but the food and fiber industry in North Georgia contributes to the agricultural economic engine of Georgia as well.
In Gilmer County, food and fiber production had a farm gate value of over $180 million in 2016. Our largest commodities in the county are poultry, livestock, forestry, and fruits. By comparison Fannin County’s farm gate value was $40 million. This ag value alone accounts for approximately 17% of the economy in Gilmer County, but when you consider other industries that are directly related to agriculture like sawmills and poultry processing, 43% of the county’s economy is tied to agriculture.
Another important aspect to agriculture in the county is the number of jobs it creates. Jobs that have a direct connection to agriculture are estimated to be 2,870. This number accounts for the people who work on the farms, markets or dairies in the county. But there are an additional 2,071 jobs that are created in the county because of agriculture. This number includes jobs in construction, manufacturing, utilities, trade, financial, insurance, real estate, services and government. In other words, if we did not have a food and fiber industry in Gilmer County, there would be no need to employ 2,071 people.
Agriculture also affects our tourism industry. People flock to Gilmer County for its beautiful scenery and access to outdoor activities like camping, hiking, or kayaking. The tourism industry in the county is estimated to be over $34 million, with a large percent of that being generated during the months in and around autumn when the leaves are changing colors and the apples are in season. People in Georgia are looking for fun, wholesome activities to do with their families and Gilmer County provides a great backdrop of mountains, trails, rivers, and creeks, but without the Georgia Apple Festival and other festivals that celebrate agriculture, we would be passed up for other counties in the area.
America is blessed to be able to feed itself on its own and have enough food left over to help feed the rest of the world. Because of the American farmer, the average household pays a smaller proportion of their income for food than most other countries. Without this strong industry in the country and Georgia, we would be dependent upon others to provide us food, and that would be a problem for national security.
The Master Gardener Extension Volunteers are doing their part to promote agriculture as well. They’ve partnered with the Gilmer County Public Library to provide an official seed exchange program for gardeners to give and receive seeds at no charge. This free service is intended to foster a culture of sharing for the patrons in our area to share the joys of fresh, nutritious food, grown at a home, so be sure to check it out and with Agricultural Awareness Week, take time and thank a farmer for all the hard work they do. For more information, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.