Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Georgia’s agricultural connections focus of farm tour

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By David B. Strickland

Poultry Times Staff

dstrickland@poultrytimes.com

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Taking a day to tour and see how all of agriculture is truly interconnected was a theme of the third annual Georgia Department of Agriculture and University of Georgia Farm Tour on Sept. 2.

The group of state legislative officials and university personnel visited many of the state’s varied agricultural producers. This year the tour focused on the northeast portion of Georgia — from fruit and vegetable farms, to the new Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network’s facility, to a bread bakery.

“This is the third annual agriculture tour I have done since becoming president of the university and each one has been fantastic,” said Jere W. Morehead, University of Georgia president. “Just to see, in person, everything that is being done in this state and to learn of the linkages between the agricultural industry and the University of Georgia and how tied we are together; that’s all very important and it’s been a wonderful trip.”

The tour made stops in places that seemingly would not be connected, such as the new poultry laboratory and the new King’s Hawaiian Bakery in Gainesville, Ga. But with this year’s avian influenza outbreak so greatly affecting the nation’s egg supply, large users of egg products like King’s Hawaiian felt the impact and are also looking toward preparing against a possible bird flu resurgence this fall.

“Eggs are a really big part of our formula,” said Joe Leonardo, director of manufacturing at King’s Hawaiian. “Eggs are about 4 percent of our formula and that’s not common for bread. Our bread has eggs, butter and milk products; it’s a real rich product and eggs are pretty critical. During the AI crisis, we were nervous.”

He added that when AI hit Iowa hard, it naturally affected their company’s egg vendors as well.

“They got hit,” Leonardo said. “And you saw what happened with pricing. Everybody has been affected, in that regard, on the industrial egg side. We did some things like qualified our plants with liquid eggs to give ourselves more flexibility and more availability in the marketplace.”

He also noted that the tour was a good opportunity for him to also see the new poultry laboratory and hear about mitigation plans should bird flu reappear this fall.

“There is some nervousness about what could happen,” Leonardo said. “So we’ve got our fingers crossed and hope for the best possible situation.”

“This shows where there is real connectivity with agriculture industries,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black. “King’s Hawaiian really pulls into the current challenges of poultry. They have to rely on and have a reliable supply of eggs.”

Black added that with the current challenges of bird flu and with the possibility of more losses in the fall should the virus have a resurgence; the state’s agriculture department is working with companies like King’s Hawaiian to assist with concerns about maintaining such things as egg supplies.

Looking at the company’s product, Black noted that, “yes, this is bread and yes it’s food, but here we see where so much of the food industry comes back to our state’s strength in poultry.”

“It would be great if we could expand our industrial egg production and then maybe we can attract more food businesses like King’s Hawaiian across Georgia,” Black said.

The annual farm tour is a chance for the university and the state’s agriculture industry to share a dialogue on the importance agriculture maintains for the state and its economy, and also the interconnection between the industry and the university.

Among those on hand for this year’s tour, including Morehead and Black, were J. Scott Angle, dean and director of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; state Rep. Terry England, Georgia House of Representatives Appropriations Committee chairman; state Rep. Tom McCall, Georgia House of Representatives Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman; and state Sen. John Wilkinson, Georgia Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman.

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