Researchers from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development focused heavily on direct-to-consumer sales, fresh consumption and statewide economic factors.
One aspect of the study found that if each of the approximately 3.7 million households in Georgia spent $10 a week on Georgia-grown produce, more than $1.9 billion would be created for the state's economy.
"These findings are some of the strongest demonstrations so far of what a small change in consumer behavior could mean for farmers, and for the entire state," said Alice Rolls, Georgia Organics executive director in a recent press release. "More than that, I hope this study gets leaders statewide asking why we don't see everyday foods for our Southern diets growing in the fields of Georgia."
The study went on to add that for each additional 5 percent increase in local produce purchasing, the state would add 345 jobs, $43.7 million in sales and $13.6 million in farmer income.
"I think, most people, if they could buy it local they would prefer to buy it local because they're helping their local economy and then plus that goes with that direct tie of, I would say, customer satisfaction as far as knowing where their product was produced," said Bartow County Extension Agent Greg Bowman.
Researchers also found a series of opportunities currently underutilized in Georgia agriculture. Analyzing the fruit and vegetable consumption within the state per item, the study found that several Georgia crops were being underproduced. In fact, 15 of those 33 items grown in Georgia were not producing an amount equivalent to what Georgians consumed.
These opportunities found in produce from apples and peaches to pumpkins and potatoes could allow for farmers across the state to take advantage of local consumer demand. The demand is present, according to the study, and the utilization of that opportunity could boost the state's economy.
For small or hopeful operations, however, this realization may be difficult to accomplish. Gaining the raw land needed, cultivating a product, taking the produce to market and capturing a portion of grocery budgets from a typically convenience-minded audience is no small feat. The marketing and production of small farming operations may alter to fit a niche of organic produce, Bowman said.
"With the economy like it has been we have seen more people wanting to get into growing their own, trying to help on their own pocketbook a little bit. What they grow will be used in their own household. ...You could take it to all kinds of levels. You could have some people who say, 'I'm going to sell my excess produce at some of the downtown markets,' but you could actually take it to a larger scale where somebody says, 'Hey, I'm going to open up my own stand itself, my own produce stand where folks can actually come and see what I've got in the field.' They either do a pick-your-own or even a I've already got it picked ready for you to pick up and go," Bowman said. "It's going to be real tough for anybody to say, 'I'm going to go out and purchase 500 acres of land.' So a lot of things are going to be on the smaller scale. That's where we've seen more of a push where a lot of folks will want to go organic because that's where they can maximize their profit because they can sell for a little higher fee."
In coordination with the Paulding County Extension Agency, a small farm education course titled "Too Much To Mow, What Can I Grow?" will be held Aug. 31 in Dallas. An initial class was held in Bartow earlier this year and teaches introductory information on grants, legalities and other beginner's information. For details, contact the Bartow Extension Agency at 770-387-5142.