December 3, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jennifer Whittaker, (478) 405-3432, firstname.lastname@example.org
GEORGIA FARM BUREAU HOLDS 75th ANNUAL CONVENTION
MACON, Ga. – More than 1,700 Georgia farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state met on Jekyll Island Dec. 2-4 for the organization’s 75th annual convention. The three-day convention included a trade show and commodity conferences where farmers heard updates on policy and production issues impacting Georgia’s major commodities. During the general session on Dec. 3, convention attendees heard from Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard.
Gov. Nathan Deal discusses state tax reform & Savannah Port expansion
Gov. Deal gave the GFB members an overview of tax reform legislation, House Bill 386, passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year. In addition to eliminating sales taxes on energy used in manufacturing and the “birthday tax” Georgia residents have been paying when they renew their car tags each year by their birthday, the bill also expands existing sales tax exemptions on products used to produce farm commodities.
Deal acknowledged the role Georgia Farm Bureau played in securing expanded sales tax exemptions for farmers saying, “Your Farm Bureau leadership was critical in making the importance of your case known to the General Assembly. Without Farm Bureau’s voice being added, this particular part of the tax reform package probably would not have been included.”
Deal said the ag sales tax exemptions will be good for Georgia.
“If we can make your crops less expensive to produce, that will make you more competitive when you sell your commodities, and I think you will help us create jobs, and that, of course, is one of our main needs,” Deal said.
Deal also highlighted other bills beneficial to agriculture that the General Assembly passed this year and he signed into law. He noted legislation that increases the punishment for metal theft and makes metal buyers more accountable for verifying that metal they buy is not stolen.
“I know irrigation systems and poultry houses have been targets of metal theft, so hopefully this bill will lessen the incidence of these occurrences,” Deal said.
He also noted that the minimum acreage to qualify for the Conservation Use Valuation Assessment program that taxes farm and timber land on its current use rather than its fair market value was reset to 10 acres. Another provision was added to allow landowners who purchase land adjacent to property currently enrolled in a CUVA covenant to add the new purchase to the existing covenant, if the newly acquired land is less than 50 acres.
“I think this is important for us to be able to continue to preserve our productive agriculture land which helps us to remain a state where agriculture is the number one industry,” Deal said.
Deal commended agriculture for the contributions it makes to Georgia’s economy and the success of the Port of Savannah.
“Agriculture exports are a major part of the overall economy of our state and are one of the reasons our Port of Savannah remains one of the very few in the United States that has more exports than imports,” Deal said, noting that Georgia pecans have been discovered by the rest of the world and are now being shipped to China and India.
Deal said Georgia’s ag export markets are one of the reasons it is crucial that the Port of Savannah be deepened to accommodate the larger ships that will come through the expanded Panama Canal, which is expected to be completed in 2014 or 2015.
“If the ships can’t stop at our port, they will be forced to continue up the East coast, and we will lose out on that business. We will lose out on the efficiency and the economy of reduced shipping costs, and as a result, our state will suffer,” Deal said.
GFB President Duvall urges Congress to reform estate tax
While delivering his annual address to Georgia Farm Bureau members, GFB President Zippy Duvall urged Congress to take action during the lame duck session to prevent federal estate taxes from rising on Jan. 1, 2013.
Rising estate taxes pose a threat to the ability of Georgia farm families being able to pass their farms from one generation to the next because families may be forced to sell land, buildings or equipment to pay taxes due on the death of an owner.
“Federal estate taxes threaten our farms, and unless Congress acts soon, many farm families could be faced with some very difficult financial decisions if there is a death in their family,” Duvall said. “We urge a lower tax rate with increased exemptions indexed to inflation.”
The current federal estate tax exemption is $5 million per person with a top rate of 35 percent. Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, the exemption will be reduced to $1 million per person and the top rate wil increase to 55 percent.
An analysis compiled by the American Farm Bureau using USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data shows 664 Georgia farms would be subject to some level of federal estate tax at the current $5 million exemption. If the exemption level drops to $1 million, an estimated 7,469 Georgia farms would be affected.
Based on 2012 farm real estate values, USDA statistics show that farms larger than 286 acres would exceed the $1 million exemption level that goes into effect Jan. 1. It would take a farm of about 1,429 acres to reach the current $5 million exemption.
Duvall told the GFB members that the organization continues to monitor the status of the pending farm bill in Congress.
“We have remained engaged in the farm bill discussion in both the House and Senate. Sen. Chambliss invited Georgia Farm Bureau to speak at a farm bill forum in Jesup in March where we offered Farm Bureau’s perspective on the issue,” Duvall said. “Farm Bureau continues to work for an adequate safety net for Georgia farmers.”
Duvall also mentioned House Bill 386, and the provision that created the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program, which GFB supported.
“This new program includes exemptions for input costs for energy, equipment parts, trailers and more in addition to the existing exemptions for seed, feed, fertilizer, chemicals and equipment,” Duvall said. “GATE is a wonderful program for farmers, and I encourage you to apply for your card before the program goes into effect January 1.”
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner encourages farmers to signup for GATE card
While addressing convention attendees during the general session, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black discussed the GATE program and encouraged farmers to apply for their GATE card before the program goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. Farmers must apply for a GATE certificate through the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA). Farmers will not receive the sales tax exemption without a GATE card.
Applications may be completed online at http://www.agr.georgia.gov or downloaded and mailed to the GDA. Printed application forms for mailing are available at most county Farm Bureau offices. To qualify for GATE, an applicant must meet one of these criteria: 1) produce a minimum of $2,500 per year or more in ag products 2) provide at least $2,500/year of agricultural services 3) maintain orchards, timber or other multi-year products with the long-term capacity to produce $2,500/year or 4) own property that qualifies for the Conservation Use Value Assessment or Forestland Protection Act.
There is a $20 fee to process applications online and a $25 fee for mailed applications that may be paid with Visa, MasterCard or a personal check made payable to the GDA. Visit the website or call (855) 327-6829 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for more information about GATE.
“There are going to be those farmers who go to buy a bag of feed on January 7 and don’t have a card,” Black said. “They’re going to be shocked that they have to pay sales tax, but I suppose that will motivate them to go get a card.”
Black encouraged farmers to sign up online to help his department be more cost-efficient. About 3,600 farmers have signed up for their GATE cards since enrollment opened Nov. 15 and 90 percent of those signups have been done online, Black said.
Black also described steps the department is taking to market commodities grown in Georgia through its Georgia Grown program, which connects consumers with the farmers who grow their food. Last year the department unveiled a new logo for the program and began working with school systems to feed students with locally grown food through its Feed My School program. The GDA is working with a Georgia company to get Georgia-grown blueberry juice in Southeast Georgia schools, which will reach about 60,000 students.
“Building the Georgia Grown brand is a real priority for us. We have the best land, ports, and airport in America and because of this I believe you deserve the best Department of Agriculture in America,” Black said.
Georgia Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard reviews National Guard mission
Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard, gave GFB members an overview of the Army National Guard’s many programs. Jarrard pointed out that the U.S. National Guard will celebrate its 376th anniversary on Dec. 13 saying, “The Minutemen, the farmer-citizen, is what started our militia, so we have a common thread there.”
Of the 11,100 soldiers who serve in Georgia’s Army National Guard, only about 1,500 are full-time employees, Jarrard said. The remaining troops are guardsmen who serve one weekend a month and a couple of weeks in the summer. Although most members are weekend warriors, Jarrard said National Guard members have never been as prepared as they are today.
“It’s true in Iraq and it’s true in Afghanistan. As you tour the battle field you can’t tell the difference between active, reserve or national guard mainly because everyone’s been over there multiple times during this war on terror the past ten years,” Jarrard said.
In addition to being trained to respond to natural disasters, biological threats and search and rescue missions, two teams of Army National Guard soldiers have served in Afghanistan as part of Agribusiness Development Teams, and a third team will deploy next year.
These teams, members of the 48th Infantry Brigade, are working with Afghan farmers to help them improve their farming practices.
“Afghanistan is way behind us in terms of farming technology. While I was serving in Afghanistan I saw a man plowing with a donkey attached to a stick weighed down by a rock,” Jarrard said. “These teams also include female soldiers who teach the ladies how to raise chickens. It’s a great effort our soldiers are doing.”
Jarrard praised Georgians for the appreciation they show military members.
“About 80 percent of the soldiers in the Army Guard joined after 9/11. They didn’t join wondering if they would have to serve. They joined knowing they would have to serve,” Jarrard said. “While we hope and pray for more peace we have to be prepared.”
Founded in 1937, the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization. The organization has 158 county chapters, and its volunteer members actively participate in local, district and state activities that promote agriculture awareness to their non-farming neighbors. GFB also has 20 commodity advisory committees that give the organization input on issues pertinent to the major commodities grown in Georgia.