Georgia Farm Bureau holds 81st Annual Convention
GEORGIA FARM BUREAU HOLDS 81ST ANNUAL CONVENTION
About 1,500 Georgia farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state met on Jekyll Island Dec. 2-4 for the organization’s 81st annual convention. The three-day event included a trade show and educational sessions that gave farmers updates on policy and production issues affecting Georgia’s major commodities. During the general session on Dec. 3, convention attendees heard from Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
Long reviews Harvest 20 Vision initiatives, outlines organization’s developing programs
While delivering his annual address to Georgia Farm Bureau members, GFB President Gerald Long said the organization’s efforts under the Harvest 20 Vision have been successful, and he announced new initiatives being developed, including an increase in research funding, the Agriculture in the Classroom Mobile Unit and the Land & Leadership Advocates program.
“All through our policy book there are statements of support for research,” Long said. “Funding for research is a prime example of Farm Bureau putting its policy to work.”
The GFB Board of Directors also has approved funding for the Ag in the Classroom Mobile Unit, which will travel the state providing interactive lessons focusing on farm topics, with the goal of promoting agricultural literacy in schools and educating consumers about ag.
Long detailed the Land & Leadership Advocates program for farmers between the ages of 36
and 50. The goal of the new program is to follow up on the success of the GFB Young Farmers & Ranchers program. GFB received input from a group of farmers in the 36-50 age group to develo the Land & Leadership Advocates program.
“We need to engage more effectively with 36-to-50 year-old farmers,” Long said. “That’s part of the Harvest 20 Vision.”
The Land & Leadership Advocates program was introduced at a lunch event on Dec. 3.
Long also praised GFB volunteers and staff for the success of the “I Farm. I Vote.” campaign, through which the organization encouraged citizens to register to vote, become informed and cast their ballots in the November election. Almost four million Georgians voted in the campaign for governor.
“I am convinced that Georgia Farm Bureau’s ‘I Farm. I Vote.’ campaign made a significant difference in voter turnout in this state, particularly in the rural counties,” Long said. “It was
gratifying to see those signs as I drove through towns and the countryside.”
Long also announced that GFB is partnering with Anthem to develop a health insurance plan for Farm Bureau members who have an occupation related to agriculture, under which qualified individuals will be able to purchase health insurance for themselves, their families and their employees.
“In the past, we have not been able to provide this kind of plan, but our goal is to make it affordable to our members,” Long said.
Gov.-elect Kemp pledges to strengthen rural communities
Gov.-elect Brian Kemp added his praise to the state’s farmers who were affected by Hurricane Michael and laid out his plan to strengthen rural Georgia.
“Our farmers, many of them in this room, are amazing individuals, amazing people. They are strong and they are resolute,” Kemp said. “You have rolled up your sleeves. You have gone back to work. You didn’t complain. You have kept the faith and started the long journey to the road to recovery. I will make it my mission to rebuild what was lost, and to help South Georgia emerge stronger than ever before.”
Kemp said his plan includes making Georgia the No. 1 state in the country for small business by eliminating burdensome regulatory requirements for small business owners and implementing a state spending cap and expanding access to high-speed internet in rural areas. He said he plans to work with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to take the Georgia Grown program into international markets.
“No one knows better than you all that we have challenges ahead of us,” Kemp told the GFB members. “But we also have opportunities that I think are endless.”
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 disaster assistance funding and the farm bill.
Carter said approximately $500 million is available under the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) of 2017 to provide assistance to Georgia farmers who sustained losses from Hurricane Michael.
“A simple fix that would give money to these that need it so badly and get it there quickly, to just change that 2017 to 2018,” Carter said. “That’s one of the things we’re working on. We understand that it’s going to take a lot more than just $500 million. That would be immediate money.”
Carter said he expects the House to vote in the next couple of weeks on the 2018 farm bill agreement reached in the Farm Bill Conference Committee.
Ag Commissioner Black details GATE, emergency loan program
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black discussed changes in the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) and a package of loans to help keep farmers afloat during their recovery from the damage wrought by Hurricane Michael.
“The greatest challenge we’ve ever faced hit us in October. The relief and the recovery effort
from Michael is underway,” Black said. “We want to be of service.”
Black said the Department of Agriculture is partnering with the Georgia Development Authority to offer an emergency loan package available to farmers who sustained damage from Hurricane Michael. The Georgia Development Authority, established by the state legislature in 1953, works with farmers and lenders to help farmers buy land and equipment, establish livestock herds and other ag-related costs.
The emergency loan program, called Securing, Agriculture, Food, Environment and Timber for You (SAFETY) is expected to be rolled out later this month. Black outlined the program, saying it is designed to be a seven-year “bridge” loan with a borrowing cap of $400,000 and an initial interest rate of 1 percent, with graduated interest over time.
“Will it be for everybody? No. But it will be a tool in our tool chest to help people,” Black said. “If you’re in this path to recovery, I hope this is going to be a service to you.”
Duvall offers encouragement, reasons for hope
American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall also addressed the convention. The Greene County broiler, cattle and hay producer offered words of encouragement for those affected by Hurricane Michael.
“Whatever (relief) package comes forward, American Farm Bureau will be there to do everything they can do to make sure you get what you need to get through to the next crop,” Duvall said.
Duvall said the similarities between the current farm economy and the difficult times the ag community suffered through in the 1980s are striking, pointing specifically to farm debt, interest rates and lawsuits. But his message was one of hope. He said he was encouraged by the experience he’s had while interacting with members of the Trump administration.
“The next line of hope I have is in this organization. This organization is unbelievable. Our volunteers are the heart and soul. I’m looking at the strength of this great organization. It’s you in our county Farm Bureaus. We can move the world and we can shape agriculture for the future,” Duvall said.