Although we live in a time of political attacks, negative TV ads, and sound bites, I believe it is important to talk about the real issues that will face those of us running for office should the voters honor us with their confidence. In short, we owe you a plan of action as a part of our continuing job interview and I appreciate this opportunity from Peach Pundit to do just that.
In our modern world of high tech gadgets and ”new economy” jobs, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that agriculture remains Georgia’s largest industry. The total economic impact of Georgia’s farms and forests tops $65 billion annually and represents the single largest component of the local economy in two-thirds of our 159 counties.
Agriculture is the foundation on which Georgia was built but, for the good of the state, we must make it an industry of the future as well. For this reason, agriculture needs to be front and center in policymakers’ minds every day.
As Agriculture Commissioner, I am going to focus on three things to pursue this goal of strengthening and modernizing this critical sector of our economy.
Food safety is a core mission of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and it must be pursued with diligence and fiscal discipline.
It all starts with our Food safety inspectors who are the “boots on the ground” professionals whose seal of approval impacts public health and consumer confidence. We need to establish a positive, goal-oriented workplace accompanied by a system to measure results.
We need to establish a professional certification program for these inspectors. Educational and service incentives will help retain the best employees, a move that in the long run will improve performance and be more cost-effective.
We must enforce all food safety laws with science-based, common sense standards for all and prejudice towards none. I will ensure that Department inspectors have the equipment and support to perform their duties effectively.
We also need to put in place better, more modern plans to provide back up in emergency situations such as a food-borne illness outbreak, natural disaster or homeland security threat.
The average farmer produces enough to serve his or her family and 155 other citizens here and abroad. That is impressive but becoming even more productive than that will enhance the strength of our agricultural sector and has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and increased revenue for Georgia.
The Agriculture Department can be a big help if it’s resources are leveraged properly. Just as farm families have adapted their business plans to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must do the same at the Department
My plan to accomplish this includes:
Expanding online capabilities of the department to include real time market information, license purchase, renewal and reporting services.
Making investments in public research which will lead to new plant varieties for food, fiber, fuel and nutriceuticals that are essential to our quality of life and potential profit windfalls in U.S. and foreign markets.
Improving marketing to encourage farmers to capitalize on local market opportunities, thus improving the value of Georgia products. Our markets should be safe, one-stop shops for all things grown and produced in Georgia and provide citizens with a sustainable connection to Georgia’s true conservationists, our farmers
It seems that Republicans have lost sight of one of our core principles: that government should be as small as possible and focus on providing a narrow set of deliverables to its customers – the taxpayers.
We need to initiate a thorough review of all laws impacting the operation of the department and then streamline and modernize them with the help of the Legislature. The budget should be published online so that taxpayers can monitor the monthly financial statements of the department.
Department employees inspect food sales establishments, warehouses, processing plants, fuel pumps, pest control applications and a wide range of other areas that touch every Georgian. User-friendly online resources and live customer service representatives will be made available to provide prompt, accurate answers to taxpayer questions.
Agriculture is the foundation on which Georgia was built and it will be a big part of the financial engine that drives us into what I believe will be a very bright future. As Agriculture Commissioner, I will make the department I lead a modern, efficient, fair and customer friendly organization that will help guide and support this critical industry toward that bright future.