Newly arrived in July at the Georgia Department of Agriculture in charge of business development overseas for Georgia produce, Paul Thompson was off immediately to Indonesia.
After seven and a half years at the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Mr. Thompson’s calendar now is full of possible trips to all corners of the world, most often to accompany Ted McKinney, the under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
In addition to Mr. McKinney, representatives of Premium Peanut LLC, located in Douglas and self-proclaimed owner of the largest peanut shelling facility in the world, came along on the Indonesia trip.
“Being there is part of it,” Mr. Thompson told Global Atlanta. “Being seen and building trust.”
Time will tell if the trip results in new business for Premium Peanut, but the governments’ overseas initiatives, both national and state, are timely in terms of locating new markets for “Georgia Grown” produce.
Mr. Thompson’s appointment comes at a time when Georgia’s agricultural sector has been buffeted by hurricane winds as well as tariffs.
Georgia pecans are among his topmost concerns. Hurricane Irma hit pecan orchards hard last year during what was supposed to be their most productive year ever with an estimated 110 million pounds in the state cut back to some 80 million pounds.
Pecans also have been subjected to a one-two punch by tariffs blocking them from their rapidly growing Chinese market. Mr. Thompson is scheduled to attend a pecan “field day” in Byron on Sept. 6 where he will learn more about the crops’ and their producers’ woes.
With Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor and now the U.S. secretary of agriculture, the sector’s complaints weren’t apt to be overlooked. Earlier this week, Mr. Perdue announced that $12 billion in government funds would be coming to the rescue of farmers and ranchers across the country who are affected by tariffs “unfairly targeted for unjustified retaliation.”
The $12 billion plan includes three programs: a Market Facilitation Program which includes direct assistance for farmers, the Food Purchase Distribution Program focused on assisting farmers with excess crops, and the Trade Promotion Program aimed at building new export markets.
Mr. Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said while announcing the programs that “It’s important to note all of this could go away tomorrow if China and other nations simply correct their behavior. But in the meantime, the programs we’re announcing today buy time for the President to strike long-lasting trade deals to benefit our entire country.”
In an effort to maximize the best results for Georgia Grown produce, Mr. Thompson has possible trips scheduled for South Africa and Korea by the end of the year.
He also has had a look at Mr. McKinney’s calendar for next year and noticed that trips have been scheduled for the undersecretary to Canada, Vietnam, Kenya, Colombia, Mexico, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
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