Georgia Farm Bureau holds 80th Annual Convention
About 1,500 Georgia farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state met on Jekyll Island Dec. 3-5 for the organization’s 80th annual convention. The three-day event included a trade show and educational sessions that gave farmers updates on policy and production issues impacting Georgia’s major commodities. During the general session on Dec. 4, convention attendees heard from Gov. Nathan Deal, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
While delivering his annual address to Georgia Farm Bureau members, GFB President Gerald Long said three of the organization’s top legislative priorities are obtaining a viable farm bill that strengthens the food security of the United States, defending farm water rights and protecting the rights of farmers and landowners from excessive government regulations.
“For more than 80 years, Georgia Farm Bureau has been the voice of Georgia farmers. Addressing farm issues is basic to Farm Bureau’s purpose,” Long said. “A new farm bill is being developed for 2018, and farmers must speak with a united voice to have influence. Farmers’ rights to use water will continue to be an issue in Georgia as the United States Supreme Court will hear a case about water early next year that could have long-term impacts. Georgia Farm Bureau supports private property rights, and we will work to reign in government agencies that overreach into the rights of farmers and landowners.”
Long also outlined his vision for Georgia Farm Bureau through the year 2020 to inspire and educate today’s farmers, youth and consumers to preserve and promote tomorrow’s agriculture.
“We will achieve our vision to inspire by increasing our educational outreach through investment in grants for agricultural research, which is one of the keys to Georgia’s agricultural success and educating students and consumers about agriculture,” Long said. “We will achieve our vision to educate by engaging and developing local volunteer leaders. We will achieve our vision to preserve by connecting and collaborating with our ag partners who share our vision.”
GFB plans to increase its efforts to promote ag literacy in schools and educate consumers about the importance of agriculture, as part of its vision to inspire, Long said.
As part of the organizations effort to engage and develop local leaders, Long announced GFB plans to add additional programs for its farmer members in the 36 to 50-year age range to keep members engaged in the organization as they age out of the Young Farmer program aimed at members 18 to 35 years old.
“We will not reduce our commitment to our Young Farmer program, but we want to maintain those leaders we work so hard to develop,” Long said.
Gov. Deal discusses efforts to strengthen rural Georgia
For the eighth consecutive year, Gov. Nathan Deal showed his appreciation for Georgia farmers by speaking at Georgia Farm Bureau’s annual convention.
“As a Farm Bureau member, I appreciate the good work that this organization does,” Deal said. “Whenever possible you give young people the opportunity to explore the rural lifestyle and this is important.”
Gov. Deal outlined the many projects the state of Georgia has funded during his administration to strengthen rural Georgia and agriculture. Deal said the state has allocated an additional $9 million above what the state usually allocates for the UGA Cooperative Extension Service, UGA Agricultural Experiment Stations & Veterinary Medicine Experiment Stations for fiscal year 2018.
“We understand that these are the kinds of investments that allow people to have access to the most current information possible,” Deal said.
Since Deal took office as governor in 2011, Georgia has invested more than $100 million to ensure students in rural Georgia have access to high speed internet. The One Georgia Authority, which provides grants to rural communities, has awarded about $100 million to fund rural economic projects that have helped retain or create 25,575 jobs in rural Georgia.
“Eighty percent of the international economic development projects that have come to Georgia were outside Metro Atlanta,” Deal said. “They may not be directly related to agriculture, but they do provide jobs for rural Georgia and allow people to stay in rural Georgia.”
Deal pointed out that since 2013 Site Selection Magazine has named Georgia the best state in the nation in which to do business.
“Agribusiness is doing your part in keeping us in that number one designation,” Deal said. “Agribusiness contributes over $74.9 billion to Georgia’s economy.”
Rep. Carter gives Washington update
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Dist.1) welcomed Georgia Farm Bureau members to his district and provided updates on key ag issues in the district, including the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) and tax legislation.
Carter said SHEP is about 33 percent complete, and he anticipated that the federal government will continue to provide funding for the project, which will make the Port of Savannah capable of handling larger cargo ships, making ag exports more cost effective. The port, Carter said, is the third-fastest growing port in the world.
“We need about $100 million every year for the next five years to get that project finished, and we have a commitment from the president and from the Office of Management and Budget that they will do that,” Carter said.
Carter said a conference committee to resolve differences between House and Senate tax reform bills would be appointed by the end of the week.
“Right now, the tax code is twice as long as the Bible,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, and unlike the Bible, there’s not good news in that tax code. We are trying to put good news in it. We need tax reform. It’s been since 1986 since we’ve had tax reform.”
Among the points of difference between the two bills is how they handle estate taxes. The House bill, Carter said, would eventually eliminate estate taxes, which pose significant financial challenges for farm families when the time comes to transfer farm assets from one generation to the next.
AG Commissioner Black: Agriculture makes life better
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black discussed the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) and a list of things the Georgia Department of Agriculture should pursue in coming years.
The GATE program allows farmers exemption from sales taxes on things like farm implements, seed and fertilizer that they use to produce their crops.
Black said there is a possibility the GATE program could transition from the current annual renewal to a three-year renewal with an increase in fees as a deterrent for individuals who would abuse the program.
“I’m very satisfied we have a sound program. I’m satisfied that our administration of it is sound,” Black said. “We may have some extra improvements we can make.”
Black outlined what he called the “agriculture makes life better” agenda, which includes making careers in the Department of Agriculture more attractive to employees, making Georgia a place where local food systems flourish, helping Georgia citizens start in business and stay in business, being prepared for natural disasters, ensuring the health of and care for animals in the state, enhancing domestic and international marketing of farm products and attracting Georgia’s youth with careers in agriculture, forestry, food processing and related fields