GFB News Magazine

Georgia Department of Agriculture celebrates 150 years

by Jay Stone
News Reporter

Posted on May 27, 2024 12:27 PM

\by Jay Stone

In 1874, whether to establish the Georgia Department of Agriculture was controversial. So much so that, on Feb. 28 that year, the Georgia House of Representatives produced a tie vote on the bill to establish the department. 

It was up to then-House Speaker Augustus Bacon to cast the deciding vote. Bacon, for whom Bacon County is named, voted to establish the department, and Georgia became the first state with a department of agriculture.

Today, the GDA serves many roles. It is a regulatory, marketing and a consumer protection agency that impacts all Georgians every day. GDA’s regulatory oversight spans from the gas pump to the grocery store and almost everywhere in between. The department has more than 550 employees who work to ensure the safety of our food supply, help Georgia farmers and promote Georgia 

agriculture. GDA’s Farmers & Consumers Market Bulletin is known throughout the state for its classified ads for farm equipment, livestock, seeds & plants, dogs and more.

On Feb. 28, 2024, many of the department’s employees gathered in the state capitol rotunda with members of the Georgia House and Senate Agriculture Committees and agricultural stakeholders from across the state to mark GDA’s 150 years.

A bound copy of the 1874 law was displayed. The official anniversary cake was a seven-tiered creation emblazoned with key documents noting GDA’s history. 

“We’re not only here to celebrate the department’s 150 years of service to the people of this state, but we’re here to celebrate the vital role that agriculture has played and continues to play in the success of our state,” Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper said. “The story of agriculture in our state is rich with tradition and history, and it’s a story that’s worth telling.”

Current House Speaker Jon Burns assured the crowd the department is here to stay.

“If that vote were to come around again now, the result would be the same,” Burns said.

Gov. Brian Kemp, a staunch supporter of Georgia’s largest economic sector, said the department continues as a vital component of state government.

“Our department of agriculture has been an institution Georgians have depended on for generations,” Kemp said. “Obviously its functions have changed with the times, but it's my belief that the institution's importance in our state has never been higher. No matter how many industries grow across our state, we will always need agriculture as our foundation on which our economy is built.”

In 1974, Gov. Jimmy Carter & other state officials marked the Department of Agriculture's centennial with Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, center, at the Georgia capitol. Irvin served as ag commissioner from 1969 to 2011./GDA archives

Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper emphasized the crucial place agriculture holds in determining Georgia’s success. /Photo by Nick Vassy, GDA

Gov. Brian Kemp presents Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper with a proclamation recognizing the important work the Georgia Department of Agriculture does. /Photo courtesy of Gov. Kemp’s office