Agriculture alive and well in Lowndes: even Kay Harris says so

The VDT went out and did some research and discovered that agriculture is not only still here in Lowndes County, it’s one of the biggest industries here, and by some measures it’s increasing. What if the local elected and appointed and self-appointed boards and authorities helped promote agriculture as a local industry?

Kay Harris wrote for the VDT yesterday, South Georgia agriculture alive and well,

Agriculture and forestry remain among the strongest economic engines in South Georgia, including Lowndes County.

A look at the recent farmgate value for 2011 for Lowndes County shows a $70 million effect on the local economy, making it one of the strongest private-sector industries in the county following South Georgia Medical Center.

The popularity of The Times’ bi-monthly sister publication Ag Scene led this newspaper to look at the ag/forestry industry to see if it has diminished in economic importance over the years.

Actually, the number of farms in Lowndes County has slightly increased in recent some recent years.

The VDT proceeded to do som research, asking Jake Price, Lowndes County Extension Agent, who noted there are actually more farms in Lowndes County than in some surrounding counties, because they tended to be smaller here, with quite a few people farming on the side. That and agriculture-based events have become more popular, such as last week’s Hog Show. (And he didn’t mention the new last year Valdosta Farm Days.) He continued:

“The number of kids in FFA and 4-H is also staying steady or increasing.”

A look at the tax base of the counties in the South Georgia region show that agriculture and forestry comprise the overwhelming majority of taxable acreage, including in Lowndes.

Looking at historic data and comparing 1991, 2001 and 2011, records from the Georgia Department of Revenue show that while Lowndes ag/forest acreage is down from 1991, when it was 90 percent of the total, it is still 73 percent of the taxable acreage in the county.

“Agriculture is still big business in Lowndes. I’m also a farmer. I’ve been in farming since the early 1980s, and our farm alone will do close to $10 million in sales this year,” said Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk.

“Agriculture contributes to the economy quite a bit, and it’s a very big part of Lowndes County.”

Hm, maybe the County Commission should take agriculture into account more when considering subdivision rezoning. They did actually do that for the proposed Nottinghill subdivision on Cat Creek Road, tabling it. That happened after several neighbors, including Calvin Marshall, spoke against it:

“There’s three or four generations of property owners in this room tonight. These people go back for three or four generations. And these people have worked hard.

This has always been a farming community. We pay taxes, and we’re trying to continue to live.”

Calvin Marshall again, Thomas E. Stalvey Jr., Gretchen, and me spoke against it, all at least partly on behalf of agriculture.

I hear that Moody AFB also quietly lobbied against it. Moody doesn’t want dense populations near where it’s flying jets. Moody has a good safety record, but airplanes do crash. Agriculture and forestry are Moody’s buffers against people and houses crowding their airspace.

More basically, why should recent one-time investments by developers have priority over long-term, often many-generations, investments by farmers? Farmers, whose business is still “one of the strongest private-sector industries in the county”. Hey, what if the County Commission and the Chamber and the Industrial Authority and the city governments promoted agriculture! Agriculture is actually in VLCIA’s charter, and nothing stops the Chamber except it doesn’t like agriculture. Even more, what if they promoted farming that doesn’t blanket everything in pesticides, using crop rotation instead, so Lowndes could be in the forefront of one of the fastest growing industries in the world? Valdosta Farm Days is already a start in that direction. Let’s go further into farming!