By Clint Thompson
Demand remains strong for Georgia’s fruits and vegetables. That’s the good news, believes Gopinath (Gopi) Munisamy, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Marketing at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The challenge is determining how growers can capitalize amid rising labor expenses and increasing imports from other countries.
He highlighted the specialty crop sector during the UGA Ag Forecast meeting last Friday.
“There’s going to be good demand for it. People are diversifying their diets. There’s this concept of good nutrition embodied in fruits and vegetables. The demand side of it is very strong. American consumers want to consume more fruits and vegetables,” Munisamy said. “The challenge is on the producer side. Our producers are struggling because of high wage costs. Those wage costs keep increasing by double digits for Georgia, in particular the last two years.
“The Georgia growers are facing imports during their growing season. Previously, it used to be just the offseason, but now we’re beginning to see blueberries in times that we grow; April, May and so on. That is creating more competition.”
Munisamy said there is no interest in minimizing imports because of political reasons; both internal and international.
The labor and trade components has led to reduced vegetable acres in Georgia. The total harvested area of vegetables and pulses decreased by 3.2% from 2021 to 2022. Fresh and processed vegetable area harvested decreased by 5.1%. It is expected to worsen this year.
Total imports of vegetables and pulses were $18.7 billion in 2022, an increase of 11.1%
Challenging Year Ahead
Vegetable producers are not the only farmers expecting a challenging season. Georgia’s net farm income is likely to return to the 10-year average of about $3 billion.
“We’re going to have a decent year but not as good as 2022. Prices for agricultural commodities have fallen. Our costs have come down on the fertilizer side, but they’re going up on the other dimension. Interest rates are higher. The cost of capital is higher,” Munisamy said. “Our costs are not coming down as much as I would like to see them come down. Revenues are falling. The net result is going to be lower revenues, lower cash receipts and lower net farm income. But it won’t be below are historical lows of $2.7 billion. That happened in 2020.”