Pursuing The Farmers' Ideas Through Relationshps
By Zippy Duvall
Fall is a busy time of year for Farm Bureau as we hold county and district annual meetings, policy development and prepare for our annual convention. One of the things I enjoy most about serving as your state president is meeting with our county volunteers and hearing about the things you’re doing in your communities to promote agriculture. I share your passion for agriculture and Farm Bureau and am committed to ensuring that our livelihoods and our organization enjoy a prosperous future.
Since you elected me president in 2006, I have asked county and state Farm Bureau leaders to join me in building relationships with leaders at all levels of government so Farm Bureau can successfully advocate for agriculture. This has been an ongoing effort, and to this end the GFB Board of Directors traveled to the Georgia Department of Agriculture in Atlanta for our September meeting.
This gave us the chance to get an update from Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black on the programs his department is executing for Georgia agriculture. During the course of our meeting, Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Attorney General Sam Olens dropped by to discuss issues impacting agriculture.
Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Jud Turner also attended the meeting to discuss water. Director Turner has a good understanding of our need for water, but he said serious challenges lie ahead unless we receive adequate rainfall to recharge our aquifers. Due to drought conditions, the EPD has suspended issuing new ag water permits for 24 counties in southwest Georgia. Rest assured GFB will continue to work for farmers having access to the water we need to produce our commodities.
I enjoyed visiting with many of you at Sunbelt in the Georgia Agriculture Building. GFB’s legislative programs are the core of our mission, so we used our exhibit to ask Sunbelt attendees who feel oppressed by federal environmental regulations to sign a banner urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Stop the Flood of Regulations. We shot a photo of the GFB Policy Development Committee with the banner containing more than 1,500 signatures to send the EPA to give them a picture of how strongly Georgia farmers oppose their regulatory efforts.
Speaking of policy development, I’d like to thank everyone who has served on GFB’s Policy Development (PD) Committee this fall. The committee met Oct. 8 and Nov. 5 to prepare the policy GFB voting delegates will consider at our convention.
During the past six years your state leaders and I have worked with GFB’s legislative staff to secure legislation and regulations based on the positions you adopted in our PD process. From 2007-2009, GFB spearheaded a statewide effort to get our members involved in the Statewide Water Management Plan. GFB helped develop this plan and 46 GFB members were appointed to serve on the 10 Regional Water Councils that have established water plans forwatersheds across the state. In 2010, GFB played a key role in writing the provisions pertaining to agriculture in the Water Stewardship Act, which helped Georgia in its tri-state water negotiations.
Taxes have long been a GFB priority issue and in recent years we’ve had several legislative successes that will benefit Georgia farmers for many years. Since 2010, GFB has worked to defend the sales tax exemptions on ag inputs that already existed and to secure sales tax exemptions for all ag inputs, as several of our border states have had for years. This year Gov. Deal signed legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly that will waive sales taxes on most ag inputs effective Jan. 1, 2013. It’s estimated this will save Georgia farmers about $35 million a year in sales taxes.
GFB has continued to defend the Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA) program, which allows farm and timber land to be taxed based on its current use rather than fair market value. We have secured legislative changes that prevent county tax offices from classifying agritourism and aquaculture operations as a breach of CUVA contracts. This year GFB secured legislation that gives small farms of 10 acres or less the chance to enroll in CUVA if they meet the program qualifications. The law also lets farmers add 50 acres or less of contiguous qualifying property to their existing CUVA covenants. In 2008, GFB led a statewide effort to pass a constitutional amendment that created the Forest Land Protection Act, which helps timber owners afford to grow large tracts of timber that don’t qualify for CUVA.
Metal theft has been a growing problem in recent years, and GFB has worked with state legislators to pass two laws to fight it. Legislation passed in 2009 tightened requirements placed on recyclers buying metal, but thieves found recyclers willing to look the other way. This year we worked with state legislators to secure a law that provides stiff penalties for recyclers and thieves who break the law. It also requires recyclers to obtain a permit from the local sheriff and prevents recyclers from paying cash for metal.
In 2009 GFB took a proactive position and initiated state legislation to protect livestock producers from animal rights groups that would like to dictate how we raise our livestock. Georgia House Bill 529 prohibits local governments from instituting regulations that mandate the size of animal enclosures. On the federal level, we’ve actively voiced our opposition to proposed legislation that would regulate the size of layer hen cages and thwarted attempts to add it to the farm bill this summer.
GFB continues to call for immigration reform at the national level. I have testified on numerous occasions in Atlanta and in Washington on the issue, explaining that farmers need a stable, reliable work force. When the Georgia legislature passed mandatory e-verify legislation last year, GFB stayed in the trenches working to educate legislators about the difficulties this presents for farmers and worked to soften the impact of the state legislation. Whenever Congress decides to take up the immigration issue on the federal level, I can assure you GFB will be there to represent your interests.
When the U.S. Department of Labor attempted to prevent young people from working on farms, GFB came out of the gate swinging, raising the issue with USDA Administrator Bruce Nelson when he visited the GFB Board of Directors last year and submitting comments opposing the proposal. I’m happy to report the DOL withdrew their proposal in April.
These are just some of the many legislative successes GFB has achieved in the past six years as a result of we, the farmers, working together through our grassroots organization to better Georgia agriculture.
In a few weeks we’ll meet on Jekyll Island for our annual convention. We’ll get to enjoy the new convention facility as we celebrate our 75th anniversary.
While delivering a radio address on WSB 75 years ago, GFB’s first president Robert Stiles explained the need for our organization this way, “Our congressmen really want to have a medium of contact with us (Georgia) farmers that is powerful, reliable and representative.”
Stiles and GFB’s other founding members were brave enough to start our organization to serve as the voice of Georgia’s farmers.
II Timothy 1:17 says, “For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”
God wants us to pursue our ideas and dreams without fear using the power, love and self-discipline he gives us.
Georgia Farm Bureau has achieved so much for Georgia’s farmers and rural Georgia during its 75-year history. I look forward to what we will achieve in the coming years.
(Zippy Duvall, a farmer from Greene County, is president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, the state's largest general farm organization.)
© 2012 Georgia Farm Bureau Federation