Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Many Roles of the Georgia Department of Agriculture

The Russell Library recently opened the Tommy Irvin Papers for research. To date, Irvin is the longest-serving Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture, helming the Department of Agriculture from 1969 until 2011. The papers of the previous commissioner, J. Phil Campbell (1954-1969) also reside at the Russell Library, giving researchers access to nearly 60 years of history of this critical Georgia department.
Figure 1: Photograph of Commissioner Irvin milking a cow at
the Capitol Building in Atlanta as part of Dairy Month celebration,
undated. Source: Series I, Box 10, Folder 25
So what exactly does the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) do? The department was founded in 1874, the first agency of its kind in the U.S. Initially charged with overseeing the production of and marketing of Georgia's agricultural commodities, they took on increasing regulatory authority through successive legislation and became a source for education for both consumers and farmers. Today their mission is "to protect consumers, promote agriculture both locally and globally and assist our customers using education, technology and a professional workforce."
Figure 2: Photograph of Commissioner Irvin with Jimmy Carter,
the National Watermelon Queen, and the Georgia
Watermelon Queen, undated. Source: Series I, Box 10, Folder 26.
Figure 3: Commissioner Irvin's annual Christmas card
with the Georgia Grown logo, circa 2002-04.
Source: Series I, Box 9, Folder 25.
Agriculture has developed into one of Georgia's leading industries. With a mild climate and a long growing season, Georgia farmers produce a wide range of products and are leading U.S. producers of poultry, pecans, peanuts, eggs, rye, and cotton, as well as being known for peaches, tomatoes, watermelons, and Vidalia onions. The GDA promotes Georgia's agricultural products through its Office of International Trade and Domestic Marketing. Commissioner Irvin was the first to establish overseas offices of the GDA to further develop international markets for Georgia products. Within the state, their "Georgia Grown" program is one of many initiatives that highlights Georgia products, including providing branding for local products and offering recipes for how to enjoy them, and the GDA operates a statewide system of farmers' markets to give producers a local market, including the Atlanta State Farmers Market, which started under Commissioner Campbell.

Figure 4: Cover of program for Georgia Agriculture
Day, 1997. Source: Series I, Box 1, Folder 9.
The department and the commissioners also promote Georgia agriculture and educate the public through participation at festivals and events around the state. One major event that the GDA puts on is Georgia Agriculture Day. This annual event brings together members of the General Assembly, 4-H and FFA students, representatives of various agricultural organizations, and the general public, providing groups with the chance to interact, learn from each other, and sample food. The event also features contents for the best food, student essay, and student art.

The GDA also plays an important role in consumer protection by maintaining safety and quality standards, enforcing regulations through licensing, and inspection. They have responsibility for the entire food production process, including the seeds, pesticides, and other components used to grow the food, livestock health, any facility where food is processed, stored, or sold, and the products themselves. They also have responsibility over nurseries and lawn care, exterminators, scales and fuel pump accuracy, and the pet and animal industries.
Figure 5: "Be Informed Before You Shop" pamphlet
produced by GDA for consumers about food safety, 1984.
Source: Series I, Box 4, Folder 27. 
One unique regulatory role for the GDA came with the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta when they had responsibility for monitoring the horses competing in the games. Controversy arose over whether horses with piroplasmosis, a blood-borne parasitic condition spread by ticks, should be permitted in the state. Concerned that attempting to ban these animals would result in an international decision forcing Georgia's hand, Irvin instead worked out a compromise that allowed the horses to compete while taking safety measures that prevented the spread of the illness.

The GDA also provides assistance to farmers through policy, research, and education.  Both Campbell and Irvin oversaw important disease eradication programs, including hog cholera (1971) and brucellosis and cattle tuberculosis (1974), and programs to control pests like screwworm and the fire ant. They also advocate for farming legislation and aid in the event of drought and other national disasters to keep Georgia agriculture competitive.
Figure 6: Photograph of Commissioner Irvin inspecting tobacco
leaves with two farmers, 1984. Source: Series I, Box 10, Folder 31.
So by helping the farmer, the consumer, and Georgia agricultural products, the Georgia Department of Agriculture significantly impacts the lives of everyone in Georgia, whether we realize it or not.

Post by Adriane Hanson, Digital Curation and Processing Archivist, Russell Library 

No comments: