Published on 02/12/16

UGA's Advancing Georgia's Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry visit state officials and lawmakers at the Georgia State Capital

By Merritt Melancon

Midway through Georgia’s legislative session there’s a buzz around the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta. Crowds of lawmakers, engaged citizens and lobbyists come in from across the state to help conduct the state’s business each day, and this week they were joined by 25 up-and-coming leaders in the agriculture and forestry industries.

The current class of the University of Georgia’s Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry spent Thursday and Friday meeting with Georgia lawmakers and leaders in Atlanta.

The trip, divvied between meetings with media representatives, legislators, agricultural advocates and state leaders like Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Gov. Nathan Deal, was designed to introduce them to the inner workings of state government.

“We want participants to understand on a practical level the process of how things are done at the capitol, how policy is made and the role that they have to play in that process,” said Lauren Griffeth, director of the AGL program and a leadership specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Warnell School of Forest Resources.

“This visit really debunks a lot of the myths about what happens here. You can have a negative opinion about lawmaking and policy making, but after engaging with law makers and seeing the process in action, you know that there are a lot of people here who are just trying to do the best thing for Georgia.”

Organized by the CAES and the Warnell School, the purpose of AGL is to educate and empower Georgia’s agricultural leaders to become effective advocates for the largest economic drivers in Georgia — the state’s agricultural and forestry industries.

Participants include foresters, farmers and nursery managers, as well as businessmen and businesswomen, representatives from agricultural advocacy groups and government agencies.

With such diverse backgrounds, some participants are familiar with the process of talking to their elected officials. But, for others, this was their first trip to the capital and their first time watching a legislative session in process.

“We were able to see the movers and shakers who make a difference as far as policy goes and who are responsible for ensuring that agriculture and conservation are successful and sustainable as we move into the future,” said AGL participant Ameila Dortch, a state public affairs specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Before their graduation in 2017, AGL’s current class will visit the Port of Savannah, row crop farms, UGA research plots, agritourism destinations and manufacturing hubs — all in an effort to gain a larger understanding of how the agriculture and natural resource industry impacts every sector of Georgia’s economy.

The experiences are meant to build their knowledge and confidence, so they can be better leaders in their businesses, farms or agencies, and so they can more effectively advocate for the industry as a whole. That’s exactly what the group gained by visiting the capital, Dortch said.

In 1993, community and state leaders across Georgia participated in the first leadership development program, formerly known as “Agri-Leaders.” Since then, 350 business leaders, farmers, foresters, educators and other stakeholders have completed the program to become more effective leaders and advocates.

Graduates of AGL say they have experienced transformational leadership development that has positively impacted their professional capital and the agriculture and forestry industries.

For more information about Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry, visit

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension before joining Terry College.

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