Commodity conference speakers upbeat about agriculture
By Jay Stone and Jennifer Whittaker
Georgia Farm Bureau held its 2021 Commodity Conference at the UGA Tifton Campus Aug. 12. Speakers gave members of the organization’s 20 commodity advisory committees updates on a variety of ag issues and attendees had a chance to talk to UGA ag researchers about the projects they are conducting to help farmers with production issues. GFB kicked off its policy development process as the committees reviewed the organizations state and federal policy pertaining to their specific commodities.
Dorfman: Farmers need to vote & vax
Georgia’s ag economy should remain stable according to State Fiscal Economist Jeff Dorfman, who spoke at the GFB Commodity Conference. Dorfman said the state’s overall economy has fared relatively well since the start of the pandemic.
Dorfman, a professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Georgia, emphasized that farmers need to vote and get vaccinated.
“Elections are important,” Dorfman said. “If you want to know what’s going to affect the type of regulations you’re going to face in farming, if you don’t want that ditch on your farm to become a water of the United States again, then you’ve got to vote in 2022 and 2024.”
Another thing farmers can do: Get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The number one thing you can do is get vaccinated, wear a mask and socially distance,” Dorfman said. “Tell other people to get vaccinated. If we can stay healthy, then our economy is going to go gangbusters and we’re going to be fine.”
During his presentation, Dorfman said farmers could expect continued low interest rates and slight decreases in energy prices and continued commodity prices at what he called “mid-level.” Dorfman said farm labor issues are not likely to be resolved soon.
Dorfman pointed to key indicators as gages for the state’s economy since March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Thanks to federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment benefits, personal income has remained steady and people have turned more attention to putting money aside. Americans went from saving approximately 7% of their income to about a third and have amassed $6 trillion in savings. Georgians have about $200 billion in savings.
Retail sales took a massive hit, though.
“In March when the lockdown happened, we were all huddled in our house and the only thing we were spending money on was any toilet paper we could find anywhere,” Dorfman said. “We had about three months where everything was down and then everything went back to normal. In Georgia that’s particularly true because we re-opened quickly, and dare I say safely.”
The biggest remaining hurdle to the state making full economic recovery is the loss of approximately 75,000 jobs in the hospitality sector, which continues to suffer with the slow return of the convention sector, particularly in Atlanta.
Dorfman said full return to normal will take time because hiring and training employees takes time. This is complicated by workers switching jobs. When it happens, one job is filled, but another one is left vacant.
Walmsley: Ag has great conservation story to tell
Farmers have been doing their part to conserve natural resources, and as the climate change policy discussion continues to intensify, agriculture has a seat at an important table.
Agriculture’s conservation story, AFBF Senior Director of Congressional Relations Andrew Walmsley said, is one for which farmers should be proud. Since the late 1940s, American agriculture has increased its production 287% while farm inputs have remained relatively flat.
Walmsley said factoring in agriculture’s small share of greenhouse gas emissions and its sizeable contribution to carbon capture, ag is a net carbon “sink,” which means it absorbs more greenhouse gases than it produces.
“As we go forward in policy discussions or private market developments, how do you shrink [emissions] while increasing [carbon capture] and make sure we remain sustainable?” Walmsley said. “For me, sustainable for agriculture is economic viability. It does us no good to run anybody out of business.”
He also pointed out that there are more than 140 million acres in the U.S. enrolled in conservation programs under the 2018 farm bill, accounting for more land that the states of California and New York combined.
“It’s those type of programs, voluntary and incentive-based, utilizing that framework and working within the House and Senate Ag Committees, that will make us successful in this climate debate going forward,” Walmsley said.
Walmsley reviewed the development of the Farmers for a Sustainable Future and the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) and their policy recommendations.
FACA includes 70 agriculture, food, forestry and environmental stakeholder organizations. The alliance met and developed a set of policy recommendations to guide the development of federal climate policy, including the Growing Climate Solutions Act passed by the U.S. Senate and under consideration in the U.S. House.
“We were trying figure out how do we shape policy in Washington that benefits the environment but also protects farmers and ranchers,” said Walmsley, who has been heavily involved in FACA discussions. “I have to say, of the 40 policy recommendations we came up with, they all fell within Farm Bureau policy. And so, we’ve got environmental groups helping advocate for Farm Bureau policy and opening doors to some offices that we traditionally wouldn’t work with.”
Carbon markets are being developed as a part of federal climate policy. AFBF has developed a primer on sustainability and carbon markets, which can be found online at www.fb.org/market-intel and www.fb.org/land/sustainability-in-ag.
Ag commissioner: fair will be held
While speaking at the GFB Commodity Conference, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black thanked Farm Bureau for its long-time support of the Georgia National Fair and the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter. Commissioner Black said the Georgia National Fair will be held Oct. 7-17.
“The Georgia Grown building will be open and the Baby Barn will be showcasing the miracle of birth again for Georgia families,” Black said.
Black also discussed an upcoming opportunity for farmers to obtain loans to finance value-added projects using Georgia commodities that will be administered by the Georgia Development Authority.
He encouraged farmers to represent agriculture in their local communities.
“I would suggest to you that it’s never been more important to speak out for agriculture,” Black said. “It may be representing ag at your county commission meetings and at your local schools.”
UGA-Tifton Campus working for Georgia farmers
Dr. Michael Toews, assistant dean of the UGA Tifton Campus, welcomed GFB Commodity Conference attendees to his campus, which celebrated 100 years of service to Georgia farmers in 2019.
Toews highlighted the academic and research programs offered on the campus. The UGA Tifton Campus offers four undergraduate degrees in: agribusiness, ag education, agriscience/environmental systems, and biological sciences. Masters degrees are offered in ag & environmental education, and plant protection & pest management.
The Tifton Campus is known for its research & Extension work on plant breeding for multiple crops (turf, corn, sorghum, pecan, grape, peanut & cotton), crop production & pest management issues, precision ag technology, controlling invasive species, and organic production.
Located adjacent to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, the UGA Tifton Campus consists of a 125-acre campus, which houses the conference center, UGA Cotton Microgin, National Environmentally Sound Production Ag Lab (NESPAL), Vidalia Onion research lab, and the Future Homestead. The UGA Tifton facilities also include 11 farms encompassing 5,600 acres where UGA researchers conduct crop and livestock research.
Toews said the UGA Tifton Campus is among the top five employers in Tift County and has an economic impact of about $83 million on the local community.
Dickey, Harper discuss state legislative issues
Georgia House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Dickey & Georgia Senate Natural Resources/Environment Committee Chairman Sen. Tyler Harper discussed Georgia legislative issues during a panel discussion with GFB President Tom McCall.
Both Harper & Dickey commended GFB’s Public Policy staff for the work it does to advocate for Georgia agriculture in Atlanta.
Harper discussed Senate Bill 260, which pertains to soil amendments applied to fields and HB 693, introduced by Rep. Steven Meeks, which gives the right-of-way to farm equipment traveling on state roads when they encounter other vehicles.
Dickey praised GFB for the work it has done for decades to address tax issues Georgia farmers face. He encouraged GFB members to support a constitutional amendment, which Georgians will vote on in November 2022, that proposes family farms that have merged may have the same ad valorem tax exemption on farm equipment that they qualified for before merging.
“Tax issues continue to be a big problem for agriculture. I thank Farm Bureau for its work on behalf of farmers on tax issues that has resulted in CUVA (conservation use value assessment) and the GATE (Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption) program,” Dickey said.