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Georgia's Big Money Crops: Cotton, Peanuts and What?

What grows on Georgia farms? Cotton and peanuts, of course. And veggies. Don't forget the veggies.

People may not know it, but vegetables rank right up there with cotton and peanuts as money crops in Georgia.

In fact, Georgia vegetable income in 1995 was $17 million more than the income from peanuts. Figures for 1996 aren't in yet. But the final '95 figures show vegetable income second only to cotton among Georgia row crops.

In 1995, cotton income topped $767 million. Vegetables brought in $434 million, and peanuts slipped to $417 million. With a value of $1.6 billion, the three crops made up about one-third of the state's farm income.

"Georgia vegetable acreage actually dropped a little in 1994," said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "But experienced growers are now producing more on fewer acres."

Just five years ago, vegetable income wasn't even 40 percent of the figure for peanuts.

Georgia farmers planted more than 175,000 acres to vegetables in 1994 and '95. They grew cabbage, cucumbers, lima and snap beans, onions, sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, peppers, watermelons, greens and 20 other veggies. And they're growing more new crops, like carrots.

Some veggies bring more money than others. Prices vary widely through the harvest and market season, too. Through it all, vegetable income keeps growing.

"Vegetable income has risen slowly for many years," said Larry Snipes, the state statistician with the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. "Peanut income varies more from year to year."

Many peanut farmers say their crop suffered during the mostly dry 1995 growing season. Irrigation systems cover less than half of Georgia peanut land. But Kelley said farmers irrigate 95 percent or more of their vegetable acres.

"We don't recommend that any farmer grow vegetables without irrigation," he said. "The investment is too large to let the plants dry up and die."

So at least until the 1996 crop figures are in next year, vegetable farmers can bask near the top of the income pool.

"It's a boost for vegetable growers to know their crop has joined the ranks of peanut and cotton income in Georgia," Kelley said. "We're up with the standards, the crops people all over the nation and world know as 'Georgia' crops."

Extension economist George Westberry figures the peanut crop will take back its second-place rank in '96. "Peanuts had their problems, but so did vegetables," he said.

Low watermelon prices and freeze damage in cabbage, onions and greens could drop vegetable income back just below peanuts.

"The fall vegetable season has been strong," Westberry said. "But it may not be enough to keep vegetables ahead of peanuts in 1996."

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