By Jay Stone & Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau News
While attending Georgia Farm Bureau’s annual commodity conference Aug. 8, members of the organization’s 20 commodity advisory committees heard updates on state & federal legislation, livestock issues, feral swine control and Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
During committee meetings, members reviewed GFB’s policy for Georgia’s 20 major commodities.
“Georgia Farm Bureau is working on initiatives to make lives better on our farms,” GFB President Gerald Long said. “For us to accomplish our goals in Atlanta and Washington, we must first understand what’s happening back on the farm. We appreciate you taking the time to come and carefully review Farm Bureau’s policies pertaining to your commodities.”
Technology an advantage for ag
UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES) Dean Sam Pardue noted that roughly 75 percent of patent royalties generated by UGA originated with CAES research. With the variety of challenges facing agriculture, Pardue said developing ag technology becomes more important.
“I’m grateful because technology is one of the few advantages we have. That new variety that comes forward, that new method that is developed, is the only thing that gives us an advantage,” he said.
Black gives hemp, disaster updates
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black reviewed rulemaking for the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, which legalizes growing industrial hemp in Georgia. The comment period for proposed rules ended Aug. 12. If any changes are made to the rules, the Georgia Department of Agriculture must republish the revised rules and accept comments for 30 days. Black said the final rules likely won’t be complete until after Nov. 1.
Black also discussed federal disaster aid, which included $3 billion for ag losses nationwide in 2017 and 2018, including those from Hurricane Michael. The disaster aid will be issued through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) and state-administered block grants.
Black led the Georgia Agricultural Recovery Task Force in submitting a proposal to the USDA that included recovery estimates by commodity and production formulas for distributing any block grant funds obtained.
“There is no doubt that the disaster we had is still a disaster for some of us. But in order for us to begin to get over this, we need to focus on recovery,” Black said. “So, the plan we have submitted for block grants is a recovery plan.”
Once the state knows when it will receive the block grant money, Black hopes to give two weeks’ notice before the signup period, which he expects to last 15 days.
Right to Farm
GFB State Affairs Coordinator Alex Bradford discussed ag-related bills the Georgia General Assembly considered this year.
Bradford said the Right to Farm Bill (House Bill 545), which would enhance right-to-farm protections, is eligible for further consideration during the 2020 session. Although the Georgia House and the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the bill, it did not make it to the Senate floor.
Bradford noted that a federal precedent has been set with verdicts in North Carolina, where trial lawyers recruited 541 plaintiffs and filed 26 class-action lawsuits against hog farmers and their integrators, resulting in more than $574 million in damages awarded to the plaintiffs.
Georgia’s current right-to-farm law is similar to the one in North Carolina. Georgia is a prime target, Bradford said, because of commodities produced here.
“We know that trial lawyers are shopping these cases around the state,” Bradford said. He asked GFB members to reach out to legislators and explain why farmers need HB 545.
GFB National Affairs Counsel Tripp Cofield discussed trade issues.
Cofield noted the U.S. has completed a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico; has a trade deal on the horizon with Japan; and ongoing negotiations with the United Kingdom and European Union.
In July, the USDA announced a $16 billion support package for agriculture in recognition of the adverse effect the China trade dispute is having on farmers. The package includes $14.5 billion going directly to farmers under the Market Facilitation Program (MFP). The remaining $1.5 billion will fund the purchase of surplus commodities affected by the trade dispute and market development programs. Farmers may sign up at local FSA offices through Dec. 6.
Cotton, dairy, peanuts and pecans are among the eligible crops for MFP. The pecan payment is set at $146 per acre, while the dairy payment is set at 20 cents per hundred pounds. Producers of other eligible commodities, such as cotton and peanuts, will receive payments based on a county rate determined by the USDA. County rates may range from $15 to $150/acre depending on the impact of trade retaliation in that county.
MFP payments will be divided into three installments. The first is expected to be made by September. If needed, the other installments are expected in November and January.
Farmer engagement crucial
GFB Advocacy & Policy Development Coordinator Katie Duvall stressed the importance of farmers remaining engaged in the lawmaking process – by interacting with legislators and voting. Duvall noted the total number of registered voters in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties offsets voters in 87 rural counties.
“You, as our commodity advisory committees, have the ability to impact every district. That means collectively we at Farm Bureau with our 158 county offices can impact every legislative district in the state,” Duvall said.
Duvall encouraged GFB farmer members to register with the organization’s Advocacy Action Center, which provides legislative updates according to farmers’ interests throughout the year. To sign up, text “GFB Action” to 52886.
EPA working with ag
One of the Environmental Protection Agency’s priorities under the Trump Administration is to engage more effectively with agriculture, EPA Region 4 Chief of Staff Blake Ashbee said. While the agency remains committed to protecting air, soil and water, the EPA intends to do so while remaining faithful to the rule of law and working within its authority.
“There’s no better example of the administration’s efforts to rebalance power at the EPA than our efforts on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule,” Ashbee said. “This is an area that created real uncertainty for land owners under the previous administration.”
The latest WOTUS proposal the EPA put forth aims to end the patchwork approach to implementing the rule and instead create uniformity and clarity for landowners, Ashbee said.
The EPA also recognizes farmers’ need for effective herbicides to control invasive weeds.
“We’ve heard from many of you that access to dicamba is important,” Ashbee said.
EPA extended dicamba’s registration for two years last fall. The herbicide will be up for registration review in December 2020.
Regarding glyphosate, Ashbee said, “The EPA continues to find it’s not a carcinogen and is safe to use when used according to label.”
EPA’s independent evaluation of scientific data on glyphosate included a more extensive and relevant dataset than the IARC study that described the herbicide as “probably carcinogenic.”
Support pro-ag candidates
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Dist. 8), who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, encouraged farmers to support candidates, who understand and support agriculture, with their time and donations to ensure that farmers continue to have a voice in Congress.
“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. What I do care about is that when we go to the polls in a November election that we have someone who can support agriculture. In some cases, we’re getting two candidates to the ballot who don’t understand or support agriculture,” Scott said. “Let’s make sure we’ve got pro-ag Democrats and pro-ag Republicans on the ballot.”
Scott expressed concern that agriculture and rural America are losing support overall in Congress. He wants farmers to understand the importance of electing candidates who understand and support rural issues.
Swine flu, lab-grown protein
U.S. poultry producers are likely to see the biggest benefit from the world’s decreased pork supply caused by the outbreak of African Swine Flu (ASF) in China and Eastern Europe, American Farm Bureau Economist Michael Nepveux said.
U.S. beef and pork producers may see increased demand for their product, but poultry should see more demand since it’s cheaper to raise, and chicken can be raised in six weeks.
Nepveux said Rabobank estimates 30 to 50% of China’s pig herd will be gone by the end of the year. China raised half of the world’s pigs before ASF hit the country, Nepveux said.
Nepveux also discussed the development of lab-grown protein products.
“Currently companies are trying to mimic mushy meat products such as ground beef, chicken nuggets and foie gras, but companies are working on developing products that resemble muscle meat,” Nepveux said. “It’s hard to say when these lab-grown products will reach the market, but it will be sooner than you think. The cost of production for these products is coming down and becoming less of an issue.”
The Food & Drug Administration has regulatory authority over cell collection and the growth process in the lab. The USDA can regulate the harvest of the cells, processing and product labeling.
Controlling feral hogs
Matt Ondovchik of USDA Wildlife Services discussed efforts to control feral hogs.
“Eradication is not feasible with the tools we currently have. Our goal and our objective in Georgia is to manage the damage these animals cause,” Ondovchik said.
Large-scale trapping is the most effective control method currently available, Ondovchik said. He tries to persuade producers not to use small cage traps. He recommends trapping large groups of pigs rather than two or three at a time.
Ondovchik said the 2018 farm bill includes feral swine control funding. In the near future, the USDA plans to test using sodium nitrite, which is toxic to swine, as a bait for depopulating.
“This won’t be the silver bullet but rather another tool in the toolbox,” he said.
Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long, center, announced the recipients of the GFB Harvest 20 Research Grants at the GFB Commodity Conference Aug. 8. GFB awarded $94,000 in grants for research that addresses production issues impacting Georgia farmers. This is the second year GFB has awarded grants to assist Georgia researchers working to find solutions to production & management problems farmers have on their farms.
Recipients are, from left: Dr. Lawton Stewart (beef research); Dr. Govindaraj Dev Kumar (antimicrobial waxes for produce); Dr. Angelita Acebes (wood-boring ambrosia beetles in tree nurseries, fruit & pecan orchards); Dr. Sudeep Bag (cotton blue disease research); Dr. Jonathan Oliver (blueberry research); and not pictured: Dr. Bhabesh Dutta (cucurbit leaf crumple virus in snap beans) & Dr. Mark Freeman (soybean research). To read more visit www.gfb.ag/19Harvest20grants .