Drive west across south Georgia to the Alabama line and, depending on which route you take, you’ll pass through towns such as Homerville, Willacoochee, Hahira, Pavo, Ty Ty, Eldorendo.
If you don’t pay attention, you’re likely to think those little towns are nestled in the middle of nowhere.
If you pay attention, you’ll recognize that those little towns are nestled in stuff that is better than gold.
Those little towns are surrounded by acres and acres and acres of cash crops. Peanuts. Cotton. Blueberries. Pecans. Watermelon.
The quantities we’re talking about here blow the mind.
First, there’s the acreage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Georgia farmers have planted 1.45 million acres in cotton this year. They’ve planted 700,000 acres in peanuts. That’s down from last year’s record high of 835,000 acres.
Georgia farmers have also planted 360,000 acres of corn, 180,000 acres of winter wheat and 170,000 acres of soybeans.
No wonder farm towns are small. With all those acres planted in crops, where’s room for a town?
Then there’s the quantities of the harvested crops. This year’s peanut crop is expected to be 3.1 billion pounds. Yes — billion, with a b. And, yes, that’s Georgia’s peanut crop, not the nation’s or the world’s.
The forecast for Georgia’s 2018 cotton crop is 2.9 million bales or about 1.45 billion pounds. For corn, 52.8 million bushels. Soybeans, 7.2 million bushels.
In 2017, Georgia farmers produced 700 million pounds of watermelon, 385 million pounds of onions, 193 million pounds of cabbage, 166 million pounds of cucumbers and 107 million pounds of pecans.
Poring over Georgia agriculture data is enlightening and fun. But it doesn’t compare to actually seeing those acres and acres and acres of planted fields on a long drive on two-lane roads through south Georgia farm country.
One suspects that Georgia farmers are obsessive-compulsive. The planted acres are as neat and tidy as can be. The rows of plants are perfectly spaced. The plants themselves are lush and green and full — pretty, too.
I’m partial to all these Georgia crops, but my favorite is blueberries. Blueberries, as the agriculturally cultured know, grow on bushes. The bushes have rich, green leaves and multi-colored branches and canes that twist in whimsical ways.
Blueberry production has really taken off in Georgia over the past generation. As the markets for tobacco and timber have sagged, many farmers have shifted to blueberries.
Georgia is called the peach state. But in 2005, the market value of Georgia’s blueberry crop exceeded the market value of its peach crop, and has every year since. In 2017, the value of Georgia’s blueberry crop exceeded the value of its peach crop by a factor of four.
It’s easy to romanticize about being a farmer — the quiet, the beautiful fields, the closeness to the earth.
The thought of sitting on a shaded porch with a cold beer watching blueberry bushes as far as the eye can see sway in a summer breeze had me checking how much my wife and I have saved for retirement and if there were any small houses for sale in the middle of a blueberry field.
But farming can be a rough go. So many factors are out of a farmer’s control — the weather, for instance.
In 2017, a warm winter followed by several days of freezing temperatures hammered Georgia’s blueberry and peach crops. The blueberry harvest fell by 53 percent from the previous year; the peach harvest fell by 76 percent.
At any rate, Georgia agriculture rocks. Take a drive and check it out.
Don Mathews is a professor in the School of Business and Public Management at College of Coastal Georgia and works with the college’s Reg Murphy Center for Economic and Policy Studies.