Exporting agricultural products is at the heart of Georgia’s history – and at the forefront of the state’s economic future.
From its beginning as a colony in 1733, Georgia’s mission was to produce food and other agricultural products to ship back to England. Today, the state ships agricultural products across the country and around the globe.
In 2012, the value of Georgia agricultural exports topped $3.32 billion, a 26 percent increase from 2011.
“That increase comes in part because Georgia’s producers, farmers and companies are becoming more active and educated about the export process,” says Shehzin Jafar, international trade manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “One of our primary goals is to help the small producers gain access to the export markets. In 2012, 84 percent of companies assisted by the Georgia Department of Economic Development Trade Division had 100 employees or less, and 55 percent had fewer than 20 employees. These companies were located in 128 Georgia counties. We have a great infrastructure for helping brand and promote Georgia.”
Georgia ranks first in the nation for exporting poultry, peanuts, pecans, paper and paperboard, cotton and wood pulp. The top five international markets for Georgia are Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam.
“Those are where Georgia exports have been going and growing,” Jafar says. She says demand is on the rise for the state’s fruits, vegetables, nuts, poultry and beef.
Georgia’s transportation assets are integral to the success of the state’s export efforts, Jafar says. Atlanta is home to Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest and most efficient airport, and Savannah is home to the second-largest container port in the country. Georgia is crisscrossed by Interstates 75, 85, 20 and 16, and with 5,000 miles of rail track the state has one of the most extensive rail systems for moving freight.
“Our transportation assets give our producers access to customers domestically and globally,” Jafar says. “Of all the Georgia-produced goods shipping out of Savannah, 39 percent are agricultural.”
Pecans represent a growth market for Georgia growers as Chinese and Indian consumers develop an appetite for the iconic Southern nut. Lamar Pecans of Hawkinsville got into the export business in 2007, and currently ships approximately 2 million pounds of pecans annually to China. The company farms about 2,200 acres and also buys and sells pecans for export.
China is a good market for Georgia pecans, says R.G. Lamar, partner and vice president in his family’s company.
“Georgia pecans are preferred in China over pecans from other parts of the country due to the size and quality,” he says. “The pecans we grow in Georgia are larger, and that has helped us capitalize on the China market.”
Lamar visited Istanbul, Turkey in September 2012 to attend a Georgia Economic Developers Association food show to introduce Georgia pecans.
“We’re really optimistic about that market,” he says. “One of the keys for us is being able to sell the product categories that are more difficult to market here, like meal and small pieces and the in-shell product.”
Though pecans are not traditionally used in Turkish cooking, Lamar says the market is showing interest in small pieces for use in sweet treats like baklava, Turkish delight and halva.
Lamar says the in-country consulting services provided by state agriculture and economic development officials help Georgia producers locate customers and establish trade relationships.
Another Georgia company, Augusta beef producer FPL Foods, ships beef products across the country and around the world to customers in Turkey, Dubai, Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand. Promising markets for beef products include Chile and the Caribbean. Georgia’s red meat exports were up 49 percent in the first half of 2012. Meanwhile, Georgia’s poultry industry is looking to develop new markets throughout Asia.
With 10 international offices all over the world, Jafar says, the state is continually working to open new markets for Georgia’s producers and products.