Agribusiness: Movers & Shakers

Agribusiness is Georgia’s No. 1 industry, bringing in $7.39 billion in 2008. Its economic impact is rivaled only by its political clout.

Yet, like most industries in the state, agribusiness is changing. In addition to the more traditional sectors like cotton, peanuts and poultry production, agribusiness is expanding to include agri-tourism, organic food production and urban agriculture.

To highlight some of those who are leading the way, Georgia Trend’s editorial staff came up with the magazine’s first list of individuals who are influential in the state’s agriculture community – movers and shakers who are helping boost farm productivity, increase crop exports, encourage organic farming or set public policy.

This project was coordinated and edited by Christy Simo; individual profiles were written by Candice Dyer, Linda M. Erbele and Patty Rasmussen.

Gary Black


Harmony Groves Farm


Black is seeking the office of Agriculture Commissioner with the slogan: “Safe Foods, Strong Farms, and Responsible Govern-ment.” He believes the state needs all three. Black was director of the Georgia Agribusiness Council for 21 years. He launched AgriTrust, a self-funded workers compensation program for farmers that so far has returned $3.35 million in dividends to members. – CD

Brent Booker


Country Charm Eggs


During high school and college, Booker worked his way up from shipping and processing to become president at Coun-try Charm Eggs, which his father Vince founded in 1977. Last year, he oversaw the consolidation of the company to one location, with 750,000 chickens on site. He serves on boards for United Egg Producers and the Georgia Egg Association. – LE

John Bulloch

Chair, Georgia Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee

Thomas County

After peanut butter known to be contaminated with salmonella was shipped out of Blakely, State Senator Bulloch introduced the Food Proces-sing Safety Act, which allows the Department of Agriculture to require testing of food products before they reach market. Bulloch, a Thomas County farmer who is chair of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, notes that similar “far-reaching legislation” has since been adopted by other states. – CD

Saxby Chambliss

U. S. Senator


As ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Republican Chambliss has worked to pass comprehensive child nutrition reauthorization legislation to improve the quality of meals served through the National School Lunch Pro-gram. He has been a leader in passing numerous pieces of federal agriculture-related legislation including the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills. – LE

Matt Coley


Coley Gin & Fertilizer Co.


A fourth generation member of Coley Gin & Fertilizer Company providing cotton gin services and peanut buying, Coley also served on the staff of Sen. Saxby Chambliss for three and a half years. During that time, he advised and helped develop U.S. farm policy, including the 2008 Farm Bill. Coley remains a hands-on farmer; he and his mom farm 1,200 acres of peanut and cotton crops. – PR

Dr. Stanley Culpepper

Associate Professor

UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences


Culpepper conducts applied weed management research and educates the public about weed science. He has authored a number of journal articles, abstracts and extension service publications, and speaks at county grower meetings through-out Georgia. Among his honors are the Award in Excel-lence in Extension given by the Georgia Vegetable Grow-ers Association and the Out-standing Young Weed Scientist Award. – LE

Drew Echols

Farm Manager/Agritourism Coordinator

Jaemor Farms


As president of the Hall County Farm Bureau and past member of the planning committee for Leadership Hall, Echols speaks at conferences and workshops to help farmers promote Georgia-grown products through direct marketing and agri-tourism. One of multiple generations of farmers, he markets the family business brand through its website, Facebook and Twitter pages. – LE

Robert Farris


Georgia Forestry Commission

Dry Branch

Farris protects Georgia’s woodlands through fire detection, burn permits, emergency and incident command system expertise, and the cultivation of affordable, high-quality seedlings for landowners. The agency has become a dynamic player in Georgia’s “bioenergy corridor,” with the state’s total economic activity supported by the forestry industry estimated at more than $28.7 billion. – CD

James Flood

Division Sales Manager

John Deere Co.


In his 17 years with John Deere, Flood has worked to increase productivity and profitability for growers. He came to Georgia two years ago from Iowa, where he was involved in the development and marketing of the potentially industry-changing 7760 Cotton Picker. He recently joined the board of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, where he hopes to contribute to the agricultural community. – LE

Will Harris


White Oak Pastures

Early County

Harris used to be “industrial,” shipping beef to the Midwest from White Oak Pastures in Early County. But today’s sophisticated consumer wants food raised differently, he notes. So he now operates Georgia’s largest certified organic farm, raising grass-fed cattle according to humane standards. It’s not the cheapest way to produce beef, but, according to Harris, it is the right way for the cattle, the environment and the consumer. – CD

Cynthia Hayes

Founder and Executive Director

Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network


Hayes helped found SAAFON, the country’s first organization of its kind, which helps members in six states and the Virgin Islands make the transition to organic agriculture. Youth find organic food a little more “jazzy,” she notes, adding that it could help more of the state’s younger people find their way back to the land. – CD

Tommy Irvin

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture


Irvin retires this year as the long-est-serving Commissioner of Agri-culture in the country. Elected in 1969, the son of a Habersham County sharecropper established Georgia as a global player to be emulated by other countries in food safety and the eradication of animal and plant diseases, and he staked out markets for local agricultural products in the former Soviet Union, China and Cuba. – CD

Abit Massey

President Emeritus

Georgia Poultry Federation


Massey is widely considered the “dean of the poultry industry” and the driving force behind Georgia’s status as the nation’s leading broiler state. Now president emeritus, he has worked for the Georgia Poultry Federation in Gainesville since 1960, launching a variety of research initiatives and supporting a network of diagnostic labs. He is a venerable fixture at the Capitol, where he lobbies for agricultural development and education. – CD

Joel McKie


Hall, Booth, Smith and Slover


State President and National Vice President for the FFA during high school and college, McKie is now the leader for his firm’s Agriculture Practice Group. He was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to serve as a member of the Agricultural Education Advisory Commis-sion. He speaks at seminars and workshops throughout the state to help farmers understand liability issues relating to agriculture and agri-tourism. – LE

Steven Meeks

Agricultural Advisor, State Director

Office of Sen. Saxby Chambliss


Meeks serves as an agricultural advisor to Senator Chambliss, whom he has worked with for 10 years. In Washington, he was Legislative Director for the U.S. Senate Com-mittee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He received the Young Alum-ni Achievement Award from UGA’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences in 2006. – LE

Christy Page

Communications & Events Coordinator

Georgia Agribusiness Council


Even though she was crowned “Miss American Angus,” Page considers herself a “behind-the-scenes” catalyst. As a communication and events coordinator for the Georgia Agribusiness Council, the voice for a $54.4 billion industry, she plans seminars and develops educational materials to inform members about AgriTrust and other resources. A onetime 4-Her, she also assists cattle breeders as executive secretary of the Georgia Angus Association. – CD

Alice Rolls

Executive Director

Georgia Organics


Between 2003 and 2008, Georgia saw its number of certified organic acres increase by 560 percent according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Still, agriculture too often has been “siloed” exclusively to farmers and business, notes Rolls, adding that her organization is trying to shift the traditional commodity mind-set toward a community mind-set, linking everyone from farm to fork. The group is strategizing with institutions, especially schools, to make sure Georgia’s produce is served throughout the state. – CD

Teddy Russell

Chief Financial Officer

Russell Landscape Group, Inc.


As CFO for the family landscaping company – the largest commercial landscaper headquartered in Georgia – Russell focuses on a different sort of growth, overseeing corporate budgeting, marketing and business development. He attributes the outstanding growth to a streamlined business formula and excellent team of professionals implementing it. The company, which designs, installs and maintains commercial landscaping, is considered an industry leader in green landscaping initiatives. – PR

Richey Seaton


Cotton Commission


Since the boll weevil was eradicated in the mid-’90s, Seaton has focused on “technology that used to seem Space Age” for precision agriculture, helping farmers around the state – especially those with small, irregular shaped fields – maximize yields while enhancing sustainability. One method he emphasizes is drip irrigation, which optimizes water usage – key when water is becoming a hot commodity itself. – CD

Billy Skaggs

County Extension Coordinator

UGA Cooperative Extension Service


With a Saturday radio show and a weekly column in Gainesville’s newspaper, The Times, Skaggs has helped to make the local farmers’ market more visible and accessible to the public. He has been instrumental in starting a turf grass field day and bringing landscape and turf professionals together with researchers and experts for regional programs and networking. – LE

Vince Stanley


Manning Farms


One of six generations to farm the same land, Stanley founded Manning Farms to help market products of the family company, Stanley Farms, which double-crops a number of products. The company processes its Vidalia onions into sauces, relishes and salsas and is certified organic. He serves on the Georgia Agri-Leaders Board and is a member of the National Onion Association. – LE

Sam Watson

Import/Export Manager

Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, Inc.

Norman Park

Watson works to support the industry as a member of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, Colquitt County Young Farmers Association, Alumni Board president of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at UGA, 2009 class of Georgia Agri-Leaders Forum and Young Farmer Chairman of the Colquitt County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He is a managing partner in Chill C Farms LLC. – LE

Josh White

Executive Vice President

Georgia Cattlemen’s Association

Executive Vice President

Georgia Beef Board


White’s activities on behalf of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and the Georgia Beef Board range from providing support for more than 70 local offices in counties and multi-county chapters statewide, to editing Georgia Cattleman Magazine, a monthly, members-only publication, and maintaining the association’s websites. A registered lobbyist, White communicates with members of the Georgia legislature and other elected officials on topics of importance to GCA members. – PR

Categories: Business Industry, Features