When the numbers are totaled, food and fiber production are the dominate drivers of Georgia’s economic engine, according to a report by the University of Georgia.

Released by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, the report showed that the food and fiber sector, which is everything from agriculture and forestry products to food services, accounts for 14 percent of the state’s employment and 13 percent of its economic output. In all, it employs 708,174 people and accounts for $92 billion in sales, said Archie Flanders, a CAED economist.

“Food and fiber compose the largest sector in the Georgia economy,” he said. “We have an abundance of food to eat and clothes to wear. These are such basic needs, and we don’t notice that in our economy.”

The food category considers jobs and money spent on everything from farm production to final consumption. For example, all the money spent on a Vidalia onion by the farmer who grew it to the consumer who crunches down on it in an upscale restaurant, falls in this category.

The fiber category is slightly different. A harvested tree counts under this category. But a house, piece of furniture or paper office products don’t because they’re considered finished products.

“Fiber involves a product as it leaves the farm or forest and taking it to a certain point of the manufacturing process,” Flanders said.

Georgia food and drink manufacturers employ 72,582 and pull in $30.5 billion annually, more than any other manufacturing sector, according to the report.

Georgia food service providers employ 314,131 people. Those that make agriculture and forestry products employ 126,968 people. Food retailers and wholesalers employ 120,818 people.

Results of the report, which was last released 10 years ago, indicate the importance of UGA’s research and Extension work in agriculture, forestry resources and consumer issues, Flanders said.

“Since food and fiber industries are such a large component of the Georgia economy, programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences have great impacts on the state economy,” Flanders said.

UGA programs related to food and fiber include production, processing, food safety and nutrition.

For a copy of the report, “Economic Importance of Food and Fiber in the Georgia Economy,” visit www.caed.uga.edu/publications/2008/pdf/CR-08-07.pdf.