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 projects they are conducting to help farmers. GFB kicked off its policy development process as the committees reviewed the organization's state and federal policy pertaining to their specific commodities.
Farmers should vote & vax
Georgia’s ag economy should remain stable according to State Fiscal Economist Jeffrey Dorfman. He said Georgia’s overall economy has fared relatively well since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dorfman, a UGA professor of agricultural and applied economics, 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.”
He also encouraged Georgians to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “The number one thing you can do is get vaccinated, wear a mask and socially distance,” Dorfman said. “If we can stay healthy, then our economy is going to go gangbusters, and we’re going to be fine.”
Dorfman said farmers could expect continued low interest rates, slight decreases in energy prices and continued “mid-level” commodity prices.
Dorfman pointed to key indicators as gauges for the state’s economy since March 2020 when the pandemic hit. Thanks to federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment benefits, personal income has remained steady, and people have saved money.
Americans went from saving approximately 7% of their income to about a third and have amassed $6 trillion in sav- ings. Georgians have about $200 billion in savings.
Dorfman said full return to normal will take time because hiring and training employees takes time. This is complicated by workers switching jobs. Filling one job leaves another vacant.
Ag has great conservation story
Agriculture’s conservation story, American Farm Bureau Senior Director of Congressional Relations Andrew Walmsley said, is one of which farmers should be proud. Farmers have been doing their part to conserve natural resources, and as the climate change policy discussion continues, agriculture has a seat at an important table.
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 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 said there are more than 140 million acres in the U.S. enrolled in conservation programs under the 2018 farm bill, equal to the total land area of California and New York combined.
“It’s those type of programs, voluntary and incentive-based, that will make us successful in this climate debate going forward,” Walmsley said.
Walmsley reviewed the development of the Food & Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA), which includes 70 agriculture, food, forestry and environmental stakeholder organizations. The alliance developed a set of 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 to 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.
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.
Harper discussed Senate Bill 260, which pertains to soil amendments applied to fields and House Bill 693, which gives the right-of-way to farm equipment traveling on state roads when they encounter other vehicles.
Dickey praised GFB for the decades of work it has done to address tax issues Georgia farmers face. He encouraged GFB members to support a constitutional amendment that will be on the November 2022 ballot proposing family farms, which have merged, get the same ad valorem tax exemption on farm equipment that they qualified for before merging.
Ag commissioner: fair will be held
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 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.”