Ag News

Ag Issues Summit covers water, rural economy, ag ed and GATE cards

The Florida water lawsuit, efforts to boost rural Georgia communities, the 28 elementary schools picked for the ag education pilot program, and GATE card changes were discussed at the Ag Issues Summit held Aug. 23 by Georgia House & Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen Rep. Tom McCall & Sen. John Wilkinson. Georgia Farm Bureau partnered with other ag organizations to sponsor a Chick-fil-A box lunch.

Water lawsuit verdict could be several years away

It could be two to three years before a final verdict is issued for the lawsuit Florida filed against Georgia in 2013, attorney Jud Turner told summit attendees.

Turner, who served as director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division from Jan. 2012 to June 1, 2016, and now specializes in environmental issues with the Gilbert & Harrell Law Firm, said the time frame for a verdict will depend on whether Paul Kelly Jr., the new special master the U.S. Supreme Court appointed Aug. 9 to review the suit, reopens the case to hear more evidence or decides only to review the existing evidence.

“Kelly, a retired judge with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is well-suited to pick up the case,” Turner said. “I think you’re looking at two to three years before we’re back where we were in June. Two years if Judge Kelly doesn’t open the case back up and just reviews the existing documents. Three if new evidence is submitted and more trial days are held.”

Kelly, who was nominated to the 10th Circuit Court by President George H. Bush in 1991 served as an active judge from his confirmation in April 1992 until December 2007 when he took senior judge status, which is a classification for federal judges who are semi-retired.

Turner said there are signs the Supreme Court wrestled with its June decision to remand Florida’s lawsuit back to a special master.   

“The case was argued in January and decided last, which indicates the justices were wrestling with their decision,” Turner said. “The majority decision was saying Florida gets another bite of the apple due to a procedural technicality.”

Efforts underway to boost Georgia’s rural economies

Deputy Commissioner for Rural Georgia Amy Carter with the Georgia Department of Economic Development discussed work the GDED is doing to strengthen the economies of rural communities.

“We are going county to county talking to stakeholders about their communities’ strengths and challenges. Agribusiness and agritourism have repeatedly been listed as strengths,” said Carter, who was appointed to her position by Gov. Deal in March. “It’s our purpose to connect these communities with federal grants and programs that can help them.”

As evidence of how agriculture drives local economies, Carter pointed out that Georgia ag exports exceeded $4.2 billion last year, and agriculture products accounted for 11percent of Georgia’s total exports in 2017. Georgia’s ag exports have grown 60 percent in the past decade.

Dr. David Bridges, president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), discussed the new Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation that opened in July at ABAC. Bridges is serving as interim director of the center until a director is named. Scott Blount has been named associate director of the center. Bridgett Mobley is the center’s logistics and operations manager.

Bridges said the center’s mission is to foster innovation and economic development by bringing new businesses to rural communities and helping existing ones expand. He said the center will also focus on keeping bright, talented young people in the communities they grew up in.

Elementary schools in 25 counties picked for ag education pilot program

Ben Lastly, executive secretary of the Georgia FFA Association, shared the exciting news that 28 elementary schools in 25 counties and one city school system have been approved to participate in a pilot program to offer ag education in their elementary schools. The three-year pilot program will begin with the 2019-2020 school year.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity for these young people to start learning about agriculture at such a young age,” Lastly said.

Elementary schools in the following counties were approved to participate in the pilot program: Appling, Banks, Berrien, Bibb, Brooks, Carroll, Chattooga, Colquitt (three schools: Hamilton, J.M. Odom & Norman Park), Crawford, Decatur, Fulton, Grady, Gordon, Harris, Heard, Irwin, Jasper, Lowndes, Montgomery, Morgan, Pickens, Pike, Putnam, Valdosta City System (Lowndes), Walker and Ware.

Local school systems will determine the grades involved with the pilot program, Lastly said, but he anticipates it will be mostly third to fifth graders.

GATE card eligibility incomes rises; program moving to three-year renewal

Georgia Department of Agriculture Legislative Director Bo Warren outlined administrative changes farmers can expect this year when they apply for their Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) cards. The changes were mandated by House Bill 886 passed by the Georgia legislature this year to prevent abuse of the program.

The income threshold to determine an applicant’s eligibility is now $5,000 per year instead of the previous $2,500. Warren said applicants can meet the $5,000 eligibility threshold with: the sale of multiple ag products; by providing eligible farm services like custom harvesting; the production of long-term commodities, such as livestock, timber or pecans; or with a combination of these.

All cardholders will be required to provide a valid state taxpayer ID number recognized by the Georgia Department of Revenue (GDOR), such as a Georgia Sales/Use Tax Number, Georgia Corporate Income Tax number (Federal Employee Identification Number), or Social Security number. The tax ID number will not appear on the issued GATE card. Starting this year, all applications must be made online. Mailed applications will not be accepted.

Another change is the GATE card is moving to a three-year renewal system with a $150 registration fee. Warren said the GDA is using a staggered, alphabetical process to phase in the three-year cards so the state receives balanced annual income to cover costs of the program.

This year, one-third of applicants will receive one-year cards for $50. One-third will receive two-year cards for a $100 fee and one-third will receive a three-year card for a $150 fee.         

GATE card holders will receive a plastic wallet-size card and smaller cards that can be attached to a key ring. Warren said all cardholders must retain records of their tax-exempt purchases to be produced to the GDA or Georgia Department of Revenue upon request.