Drought busted? Good times ahead? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Drought busted? Good times ahead?

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March 7, 2008

Albany -- While most areas of the nation are talking about recession and job losses, Ag economists are talking confidently about South Georgia's largest industry having a boom year.

Agriculture economists are predicting a breakthrough profit season for South Georgia farmers and industries, that should carry strong economic prosperity to the rest of the community.

Agriculture experts expect Georgia farmers to plant almost 100,000 more acres of peanuts in 2008-- an 18% increase over last year.  A record amount of wheat is growing in Georgia now, and large crops of corn and cotton are also expected to be planted, as Georgia's number one industry shows strong growth.

Birdsong Peanuts President Jeff Johnson said "Billions of dollars to this area in agriculture," will result.

Farmers are optimistic because recent rains seem to have ended the extreme drought, and commodity prices are near record highs for many crops. 

University of Georgia Agriculture Economist Nathan Smith said "Even in a down economy, the Ag sector looks like it is going to remain strong, and be supportive."

In other words, if farmers plant big crops and make strong profits, that money will filter through the entire region's economy.

"It's going to be a huge boom to this area. You will feel the effect through all industries," Johnson said.

The price being offered for crops is much higher than recent years. Peanut farmers will get $500 to $525 a ton, because there are low inventories in storage, exports are strong, and demand continues to grow.  Demand for other crops like corn is pushing prices up.  On the down side, the cost to grow these crops have also soared. Fuel, fertilizer, and seed costs have all skyrocketed.  But with hopes that the drought will ease,  ag experts say optimism is high.

"A lot of opportunity, but a lot more risk too," Smith said.

Economists say they expect growth in agriculture to soar,  as the demand for farm products used in fuel production is expected to increase.  And they say that should keep South Georgia's economy strong.

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