Ag News

Public Policy Breakout Sessions: Political Outlook

Public policy analyst Charlie Harper hit on a variety of topics during his presentation at the Georgia Farm Bureau Convention, but his overarching message was this: Tell your story.

Harper, publisher of and executive director of PolicyBEST, grew up in metro Atlanta and still lives there. He quickly pointed out that he knows very little about farming, which makes him and those like him an important audience for agriculture.

“About half of Georgians are a lot like me,” Harper said during the Political Outlook Public Policy breakout session. “They don’t know what you do. They don’t know how farms work. You’ve really got to work to make sure you’re reaching the people who had experiences growing up like I did. We kind of know y’all are there, but we really don’t know what you’re doing, and we need to understand and appreciate how important [farming] is.”

Harper said that on the national level, everything is flowing from presidential politics, and in terms of large-scale messaging, reporting on agriculture often is limited to local papers in rural areas.

At the state level, Harper said the “two Georgias” (Metro Atlanta and everyone else) have evolved into five – urban Atlanta, sububurban Atlanta, rural North Georgia, rural South Georgia and coastal Georgia. In those regional divisions people need coalitions to get things done in the state legislature, he said.

For instance, farming interests in rural Georgia are seeking investment in the state’s rail system to facilitate moving ag products to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, and they may have a common interest with groups in metro Atlanta that are pursuing a commuter rail system in and out of Atlanta.

“When you’re looking at when bills go through concerning whether they’re going to fund transit in Atlanta with state money, South Georgia is going to want something, and that might be your bargaining chip.”

He said politics at the state level no longer back agribusiness, in part because people in metro areas are so far-removed from the farm.

“The opportunity for you is to make sure you start telling your story in ways that relate to a metro Atlantan so they can understand what you contribute to the state,” Harper said.