Georgia, The Blueberry Peach State

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Georgia is now referred to as a solidly red state in political terms.  However, the state is making a decided turn towards blue.  Not (yet) politically, but from a brand image state.  Dan Chapman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has penned a story that hits Georgia down to the pit of our brand image peaches. 

Blueberries now account for almost three times as much of Georgia’s agricultural production as our “official” peach crop.  Blueberries also continue to expand in production while peaches are shrinking.  According to Chapman’s figures, Georgia’s acreage devoted to blueberries more than doubled in the last ten years, from 8,000 to 19,000 acres.  Georgia’s acres of peach orchards declined 25% during that same timeframe, dropping from 16,000 acres to 12,000.  

It’s not exactly been a secret that Georgia hasn’t been the leader in peach production for decades.  Neighboring South Carolina produces almost three times as many, though they seem to be happy being the Palmetto State.  Having grown up very near Palmetto Georgia, I’m not sure why that’s how they choose to brand their state, but that’s their choice.  California, by the way, totally dwarfs Georgia and South Carolina in peach production, producing more than 20 times Georgia’s total peach output.

This does present a bit of an identity problem for Georgia.  We’re third in peach production as well as blueberry production.  We are number one in producing chickens, but I doubt there will be any move afoot anytime soon to see “Georgia, the chicken state” on license plates.  There’s just something not quite right about that.

We identify as being the Peach State, and that will not likely change anytime soon.  The underlying point is that while our image and identity will remain the same, the state in and of itself is changing. 

South Georgia farmers have realized that there is opportunity for growing blueberries – and many other crops – based on market conditions and Georgia’s soils and climates.  It’s about matching supply and demand.  Millions of dollars now flow into the economies of rural Georgia towns because a new market was discovered and is being tapped.

Brand images are nice for marketing purposes and sentimentality.  They are not good predictors of market trends nor helpful when attempting to adapt for the future.

Much more is changing about our state than just our cash crops.  The past three decades have provided a massive population shift with most Georgian’s concentrated in metro Atlanta.  While agriculture is not an overriding industry in Atlanta and its suburbs, the brand image is changing up here in my part of the state too.

Atlanta sold itself as a low cost of living, high quality of life region for most of my lifetime.  Jobs were considered plentiful, and our industries of banking, logistics, and construction insulated us from recessions. 

Today, the region faces gridlock, land costs have risen to the point that we’re much closer to national averages in costs of living (and ahead of most of our southern competition), and the core industries which used to provide limitless employment have been stagnant at best for half a decade.

Atlanta, and the state as a whole, is at a turning point.  We can choose to be stuck on brands and self-images that served us well in the past, or we can have an honest discussion about who we are now, and what our honest strengths and weaknesses are as a state.

We aren’t going to grow based on cheap land.  Quality of life will not be a drawing card without sufficient infrastructure to support the state’s population.  Industries of tomorrow will not relocate without the education and training available for a workforce that can supply the skills needed to supply labor.

Peaches represent a Georgia that we all know and love.  Understanding that peaches don’t represent the future – and figuring out what will – is key to Georgia remaining peachy for decades to come.  It’s no time to be chicken.

20 comments

  1. xdog says:

    I was surprised to find that cotton ranks behind only broilers as a cash crop. Where do they grow all that stuff?

  2. peachstealth says:

    I quit farming in 1999 so my knowledge is rather dated. The largest peanut producing area of the state is in the Southwest corner, The production area extends into the southern part of Middle Georgia ( Wilcox, Dooley, Pulaski, Dodge and Laurens Counties among others) and ending in the Statesboro area.
    There are two large pecan producing areas. The largest is around Albany, the other is around Perry and Ft Valley. When peach orchards are planted the general plan is to plant two peach trees, then a pecan tree in the same row. The producing life of the peach tree is about 15 years, which is also the age at which a pecan tree starts producing. The old peach trees are removed and you’re left with a producing pecan orchard.
    I’ve never been in the chicken business but Gainsville use to be the center of the broiler industry.
    Cotton has made a comeback in Georgia thanks to the BWEP ( Bole Weevil Eradication Program) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boll_Weevil_Eradication_Program

    • “When peach orchards are planted the general plan is to plant two peach trees, then a pecan tree in the same row.”

      This method (or similar) is still used at least in the Fort Valley area. I stopped by Lane Southern Orchards for some peaches yesterday and my father-in-law pointed that out. 🙂

  3. “We are number one in producing chickens, but I doubt there will be any move afoot anytime soon to see “Georgia, the chicken state” on license plates.”

    Especially since most people in Cobb County aren’t even legally allowed to own them. I believe most people in Cobb are allowed to own peach trees or blueberry bushes. (Though it could require approval of the county arborist or some sort of permit. At least it feels like there’s permits for everything else.)

  4. Dave Bearse says:

    “We can choose to be stuck on brands and self-images that served us well in the past, or we can have an honest discussion about who we are now, and what our honest strengths and weaknesses are as a state.”

    Advise if the discussion occurs, and it’s results.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        I was being snarky that the common folk, particularly Dems, aren’t consulted on anything. Even many in the GOP have to wait until the ruling cliques consult ALEC and insiders as to what needs to done, determine how it will be done, and wait for proclamation.

  5. USA1 says:

    Or how about the Pot Pundit? Since marijuana may be our top cash crop.

    Oops, am I supposed to say that out loud?

    • Three Jack says:

      Damn USA1, stole my thunder except I was going with ‘Blunt Pundit’ as a double entendre.

      The future is medical marijuana as more folks get tired of being scammed by big Pharma. Especially when it comes to pain management which is nothing more than legalized narcotic distribution with horrendous side effects and widespread addiction. MedPot has been proven to assist folks with chronic pain — http://www.everydayhealth.com/pain-management/medical-marijuana-for-chronic-pain.aspx — this despite being illegal on the federal level.

      Georgia would be wise to join with many other states in legalizing medpot. Understandably this is a longshot considering the cast of characters currently running our great state, but someone should introduce legislation to at least legalize pot for pain management purposes. I like many others have witnessed firsthand how devastating addiction to pain meds can be, especially for the geezer generation. Pot would be a much better solution and Georgia would have the coolest license plates in the nation.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Legalize pot for pain management? If fails on two fronts. Besides pharma as you’ve mentioned, it undermines the drug war industry’s most promising new market, pill mills. What other government industry can so cavalierly sieze private property with so little oversight?

Comments are closed.