Georgia vegetable acres have declined over the past decade with greater than a 20 percent decline in acreage. During this same period, however, farm gate value has increased by almost 35 percent.
Vidalia onions continue to be the greatest revenue generator among vegetables, with almost $140 million in 2008. In terms of acres, sweet corn is No. 1, passing even watermelons, which are notorious for needing a lot of room.
The drought is finally over in Georgia, which did not have as great an impact on south Georgia agriculture as in north Georgia. North Georgia was under severe restrictions for water use. Vegetable production tends to be smaller scale in north Georgia so any impact was not that great for the state overall.
Spring rains hampered onion harvest, reducing yields. In 2008 during April and May, there were 3.78 inches of rain. By contrast in 2009 during this same period, there were more than 15 inches of rain in the Vidalia region. Heavy spring rains also hampered planting with more than 16 inches of rain in March and April this year in the Tifton region.
Rainfall continued to be a factor for vegetable production in south Georgia. From March 1 to the end of July, there were almost 33 inches of rain. The average for the previous five years during this same period was just below 17 inches. Heavy rains contribute to higher disease incidence, which in turn affects yield and quality.
The Georgia Commodity Commission for vegetables collects assessments from growers for research, education, and promotion and marketing. The Commission expects to award approximately $120,000 in grants to fund research on vegetable problems this year. They have identified several areas they wish to see researched. The eight areas of emphasis they have identified include routine evaluations of insect and disease control, variety evaluation, and weed control. In addition, they are looking to fund research on mechanical harvesting, identifying new crops for Georgia, and improving postharvest handling including food safety.
There continues to be growing interest in organic and locally produced vegetables. This is particularly true in north Georgia around the urban centers of Atlanta and Athens. Some south Georgia growers have seen an opportunity to grow high value vegetables for the certified organic market. This is particularly true for Vidalia onion growers. The Georgia Department of Agriculture estimates that 400 acres of Vidalia onions were grown organically this year. Although this doesn’t sound like much in comparison to the 12,000-plus acres of Vidalia onions, it represents more than 13 percent of total organic acres in the state.
Organic production remains small, but has grown considerably from the few hundred acres a few years ago. It will remain a small part of Georgia’s agriculture for the foreseeable future, but there is tremendous potential as these markets grow and mature.
Vegetable production in Georgia continues to be an important part of Georgia’s agriculture with almost $850 million in farm gate value in 2008. This represents more than 11 percent of the farm gate value for the state in 2008.