Taking Care of Business

Members of the Georgia Agribusiness Council’s board of directors met with former Sens. Sam Nunn and Mack Mattingly during a trip to Washington in the early 1980s. Photo contributed

Alumni Celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Georgia Agribusiness Council

In 1965, William A. “Bill” Sutton (BS – Agriculture, ’27) envisioned a Chamber of Commerce-type organization to increase awareness and create a unified voice for agribusinesses in Georgi

Sutton, a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension director and agribusiness vice president at Citizens and Southern (C&S) National Bank, was also a former president of the CAES Alumni Association. He called on fellow College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences alumni to establish the Georgia Agribusiness Council (GAC), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“At that time you had production agriculture and finished products, but there was not an agribusiness link,” said Fred Greer (BSA – Agricultural Economics, ’62; MS – Agricultural Economics, ’64), a board member who also worked for Sutton at C&S Bank. “You didn’t have an umbrella, a bring-us-all-together group. There was a big gap in the need for coordination and unity from the producer to the consumer.”

A diverse group of 15 industry leaders formed the board of directors. The Georgia Agribusiness Council was officially incorporated on Jan. 17, 1966. Membership today includes more than 1,000 statewide companies.

“It’s representative of all major groups, industry sectors,” said Agriculture Commissioner of Georgia Gary Black (BSA – Agricultural Education, ’80), who was president of GAC from 1989 to 2011 and who was responsible for the 1993 formation of AgriTrust of Georgia, a self-insured workers’ compensation insurance program available exclusively to GAC members. “There’s value in having a broad-based group to serve as a platform for networking, but also where many different issues can be addressed. We can all work together to provide a very bright beacon for the breadth of the industry.”

As the state’s largest economic sector, there are constantly new state and national issues, regulations and policies to consider.

“It’s been rewarding and challenging,” said Bryan Tolar (BSA – Agribusiness, ’92), who has worked for GAC for nearly two decades and served as president since 2011. “There are no simple solutions for the complexity of the problems that lie ahead. As invested as everyone has been in our organization and others, including UGA, we have more work to do. Let’s celebrate the victories, but never lose sight of what work lies ahead.”

There are currently 32 people who serve on the board of directors, representing all facets of the industry. Nine of them are CAES alumni.

Chip Blalock (BSA – Animal Science, ’87), the executive director of the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo, has served as GAC’s annual Harvest Celebration chairman for several years. Harvest Celebration is the organization’s signature fundraising event.

“It’s gratifying to see the Georgia agricultural community come together each November to celebrate the blessings of the previous year,” said Blalock.

A portion of proceeds from the event go to support agricultural education and outreach initiatives around the state, including the college’s Congressional Agricultural Fellowship in Washington and the Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry program.

“We’re very proud to be able to say we were a part of those systems from day one,” said Tolar. “We invest in other educational institutions as well, but you have to find the best bang for your dollar, and student development and CAES have provided that year in and year out.”

One board member, Randy Nuckolls (BSA – Agricultural Economics, ’74) has watched the Congressional Agricultural Fellowship program strengthen as he’s worked at his law firm in Washington. “It’s grown from one (student) to seven (students) each year,” he said. “Many (graduates) have taken prominent positions on congressional staffs and in government relations afterward.”

In addition to Tolar, two other alumni currently work at GAC. Anna Strickland (McIntyre) (BSA – Agricultural Communication, ’12) is director of events and member relations, and Jonathan Harding (BSA – Agricultural Education, ’13) is the public affairs coordinator.

“Things have changed so much and so fast, it takes fresh [graduates] to come on board and exercise their minds,” said Garland Thompson (BSA – Agricultural Economics, ’63), a former board chairman. “How else are we going to continue what’s been started so long ago and what’s been so successful?”

Today, the organization is the largest of its kind in the U.S.

“I’ve said so many times that Mr. Sutton is absolutely smiling down from his place in heaven as to how pleased he is as to what he’s developed in the form of the council and what its meaning is to the people in this state,” Greer said.