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UGA expert helps market Georgia's top business

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

John McKissick stands in the middle of Georgia's top industry, watching numbers swirl around in a high-rolling agricultural market that doesn't attract much attention.

He and others at the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia help Georgia farmers market their products in a sometimes confusing and ever- changing business world.

"Food manufacturing -- food and processing -- is increasing and is more important to Georgia than any other industry," said McKissick of the Center for Agribusiness, where he is director. He is also the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics' UGA Cooperative Extension program coordinator.

"For the farmers to remain competitive, marketing is important for them," said Fred White, head of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' department of agricultural and applied economics. "Marketing has to be emphasized, especially as farmers diversify away from commodity animal and crop products."

Taken as a whole, agribusiness is the largest business in the state, McKissick said. Georgia's agribusinesses topped $10.5 billion in 2005 farm gate value, or the value of the products farmers sell. That's up from $10.28 billion in 2004.

The 2005 Farm Gate Report, which McKissick and Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development research coordinator Susan Boatright filed in May, shows that Georgia's agricultural production value continued to expand in 2005. But the pace was modest. Gains in vegetables, row crops, fruits and nuts offset declines in poultry, the state's largest farm enterprise.

"With the growing population we have in Georgia and Florida, we've got good markets for perishable products like fruits and vegetables," McKissick said. "And turfgrass has gone up in farm gate value."

The agribusiness center, operated through the UGA CAES, does more than just study farm-related production.

"We do a lot more with agribusinesses," McKissick said. "We work with new, emerging agribusinesses across the state, helping them find markets for their existing or new products."

The term agribusiness can be confusing. But McKissick says it covers all firms that work to get fiber processed or food to the table.

Recently, the agribusiness center found itself studying milk. A Georgia dairy wanted to find out which product buyers would be willing to pay more for, organic milk or milk from grass-fed cows.

"Consumers were willing to pay more for the pastured product, but they wouldn't pay more for the organic production," McKissick said. "Milk produced from the pastured cows was seen as 'happy milk'" from cows peacefully grazing in a pasture. "The organic didn't matter enough that they were willing to pay for it."

Another study looked at the reasons Georgia is losing dairies. The hope in doing the milk study was to attract big dairies to the state, drawing them in partially because of the high milk prices shoppers pay, McKissick said.

They've found places in southwest Georgia that could be good for dairies, areas that don't have many animals or people. "The economic impact of the larger-scale dairies in this area" would be great, he said.

Helping create such impacts from apiaries to zucchini is something McKissick does so well that he recently became UGA's first distinguished professor of agricultural marketing.

"John has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in ag marketing," White said. "He has been recognized by the national agricultural economics community. He is a very dedicated and highly energetic professional."

The professorship was established by an initial endowment from the Milton M. Ratner Foundation. It was approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and goes into effect July 1.

For more information on the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, call (706) 542-2434 or e-mail caed@agecon.uga.edu.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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