This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The peanut industry contributes more than 50,000 jobs in Georgia. Joy Crosby, Georgia Peanut Commission
hen Georgia was in the national spotlight during Super Bowl LIII this past January, the focus was on the state’s hospitality, entertainment and, of course, the tremendous food and unique gifts.
What didn’t get much attention was the “machine” behind all of the buzz—the communities throughout the state that contribute to producing the ingredients that make these rave-worthy dishes and products possible and hold the distinction of being “Georgia grown.”
Agribusiness is Georgia’s leading industry, having an annual impact of more than $75 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The statistics are staggering—9.3 million acres of operating farmland, No. 1 in blueberry production in the U.S. and poultry production resulting in more than 1.3 billion chickens raised statewide.
“The state leads the nation in production of chickens, peanuts, pecans, blueberries and rye. And many companies—including Pilgrim’s Pride, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola and Tyson—source their products directly from Georgia farms and operations,” according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s website.
Local communities benefit in multiple ways—jobs, economic development, support for community projects and events such as festivals, fairs and more. Alma City Manager Al Crace knows this firsthand.
Located in South Georgia, Alma has been a rural farming community for decades. Tobacco once was the cash crop, but in the 1970s with lawsuits and public taste waning tobacco became a less lucrative crop. However, federal and university researchers found that blueberries could be grown successfully in the soil of Alma and nearby communities.
“They said Alma was a perfect place with the right soil, acidity and organic matter,” said Crace.
Known for its blueberry production, Alma is home to three full-service blueberry processing centers and nine sorting and packing operations. It’s currently establishing itself as a processing site for fruit processing of many kinds. An annual three-day blueberry festival is also held in the city of 3,600 every June.
Blueberries impact on Alma has been significant, Crace said.
“It has raised the level of income. This is a higher form of horticulture, not just agriculture.”
He added that the range of jobs in the blueberry industry is diverse: horticulturists, farm managers, tech support experts, packing and merchandise specialists.
“It’s been a major transformation. It affects the whole community and ripples throughout it.”
The city of Sylvester, population 6,200, is known as the “peanut capital of the world,” and just about every business is directly or indirectly related to agriculture, according to Sylvester’s mayor Bill Yearta.
“Agriculture pumps millions of dollars into our local economy,” Yearta said.
He estimates that in Worth County there are more than 100 operating farms cultivating peanuts, pecans, cotton, etc.
“It’s the backbone of our community,” said Yearta. “It affects local banks, the grocery stores, the restaurants and my jewelry store business.”
In good times, residents and businesses of Sylvester benefit greatly. Then there are the lean times.
Last year was shaping up to a bumper year with abundant crops enhanced by rains coming at just the right time, the mayor said, until Hurricane Michael brought its category 4 intensity to Southeast Georgia and caused an estimated $1 billion-plus in damage.
Yearta said his community is in recovery mode and hoping that 2019 doesn’t bring additional major storms to the area.
Peanut production is big in Georgia and companies such as Kroger and Peter Pan have operations in rural cities including Albany and Sylvester where peanut products are processed. In fact, the annual Georgia Peanut Festival is held in October as a “thank you” to farmers and the community. ConAgra Food, maker of Peter Pan peanut butter, boasts that every jar of Peter Pan peanut butter is made in Sylvester.
“The peanut industry in Georgia is approximately a $2 billion industry, which impacts the livelihood of 4,500 peanut farmers in the state,” said Joy Crosby, director of communications with the Georgia Peanut Commission.