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Farm Symposium Aims to Boost Rural Economy
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Georgia farmers are facing a crisis. Crop prices are nearing some of the lowest levels ever as expenses keep climbing. Farmers are caught in a price squeeze they may not be able to overcome.

The solution involves higher prices or lower costs. But most economists don't expect the costs to improve. So farmers need to consider "value-added" opportunities for their farms.

Trying to find ways to add dollars to rural economies, scientists, farmers and farm policymakers from Georgia and around the world will meet at the first "Symposium on Value-added Agriculture" Dec. 13-14 in Tifton, Ga.

"Commodity agriculture is in trouble," said Randy Hudson, coordinator of the emerging crops and technologies program in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Without federal support, most commodities are losing money for our producers.

"Farmers must be empowered to produce and market beyond the farm gate," Hudson said. "The economy of Georgia is heavily dependant upon a healthy and prosperous rural Georgia. The family farm and a profitable agricultural system are vital for rural economic growth."

The Solutions

How can you add value to farm crops?

Growing new crops, processing old ones and using smarter marketing strategies and new technologies are a few ways to boost farm incomes.

"Any way to bring dollars back into the rural economy needs to be explored," Hudson said.

The main goal of the symposium is to get people thinking about ways to increase farm incomes. "Growers must be innovative and progressive at times like these," he said. "They must be willing to get closer to the consumer."

One such opportunity is in developing nutraceutical crops, or crops with health benefits.

"It is estimated that the current nutraceutical market is about a $5-billion annual industry," he said. "In the next five years it could be as much as $20 billion."

Almost all Georgia crops have some nutraceutical value, he said. Through technology, the part of the plant that contains the health benefit could be extracted and marketed as a separate product.

The Support

At the symposium, Mark Drabenstott, vice president of the Center for the Study of Rural America at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, will brief participants on the state of commodity agriculture.

Duane Acker, chair of the Iowa Agricultural Finance Corp., will talk about successes and failures of value-added ventures.

"These national leaders will lay the groundwork of the value-added arena today," Hudson said.

In another symposium segment, key legislators and agriculture leaders will discuss value-added agriculture. The discussion will be moderated by the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes will speak Dec. 14 about the state's commitment to the future of a healthy agriculture.

The symposium will be at the Tifton Rural Development Center. Fees are $50 before Nov. 30 and $150 after. To register, call the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center at (229) 386-3416. Or go to www.ugatiftonconference.org.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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