Ag News

GFB Commodity Conference: Members urged to be involved

By Jay Stone and Jennifer Whittaker, Georgia Farm Bureau

NOTE: For photos from the GFB Commodity Conference, click here.

Georgia Farm Bureau and its guest speakers during the 2019 GFB Commodity Conference presented one clear message to members on Aug. 8: Your involvement is needed, whether it is voicing your views with elected officials or working to ensure candidates for election support agriculture.

The meeting, held at UGA’s Tifton Campus, provided state & federal legislative updates, a synopsis of issues impacting the livestock industry, efforts being made to control feral swine and the status of Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Members also heard from Dr. Sam Pardue, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott and Georgia Ag Commissioner Gary Black.

During individual committee meetings, members reviewed GFB’s policy for Georgia’s 20 major commodities. 

“Georgia Farm Bureau is working on initiatives to make lives better on our farms,” GFB President Gerald Long said. “In order for us to accomplish our goals in Atlanta and Washington we must first understand what’s happening back on the farm. You [our members] are the experts in your commodity areas. We appreciate you taking the time to come and carefully review Farm Bureau’s policies pertaining to your commodities.”

Technology an advantage for ag

UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES) Dean Sam Pardue welcomed GFB to the college’s Tifton Campus Conference Center while providing a CAES update. Pardue touted the college’s accomplishments, noting that roughly 75 percent of patent royalties generated by UGA originated with CAES research. With the variety of challenges facing agriculture, Pardue said developing agricultural technology becomes more important.

“I’m grateful because technology is one of the few advantages that we have. That new variety that comes forward, that new method that is developed, is the only thing that gives us an advantage,” he said.

Pardue said the 2019 Georgia Legislature budgeted for two new precision ag positions to be based at UGA Tifton, as well as 12 new Extension agents around the state.

CAES Assistant Dean for the UGA-Tifton Campus Joe West said the campus has received a $3.6 million grant to fund research on controlling whiteflies – a pest that has been plaguing vegetable and row crop growers in recent years.

Black gives hemp, disaster aid updates 

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black reviewed rulemaking for the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, which legalizes the production of industrial hemp in Georgia. The comment period for proposed rules ended Aug. 12. If any changes are made to the proposed rules, the Georgia Department of Agriculture must republish the revised proposed rules and accept comments for 30 days. Black indicated the final rules likely won’t be complete until after Nov. 1.

Black also discussed the implementation of federal disaster aid measures, which included $3 billion for ag losses nationwide in 2017 and 2018, including those in Georgia from Hurricane Michael. The disaster aid will be issued through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) and state-administered block grants. Black led the Georgia Agricultural Recovery Task Force in submitting a proposal to the USDA that included recovery estimates by commodity and production formulas for distributing any block grant funds obtained.

“There is no doubt that the disaster we had is still a disaster for some of us.  But in order for us to begin to get over this we need to change the semantics. We need to focus on recovery,” Black said. “So, the plan we have submitted for block grants is a recovery plan.”

The disaster assistance funding would help producers in counties declared disaster areas, the commissioner said. He was not sure if contiguous counties would be eligible.

Once the state knows when it will receive the block grant funding, Black hopes to give two weeks’ notice before the signup period, which he has recommended to last 15 days.

“There’s not anything we can request that can make anyone whole, but [we can] do what we can do to help along our recovery,” Black said.

Right to Farm

GFB State Affairs Coordinator Alex Bradford discussed ag-related bills the Georgia General Assembly considered this year, including bills that authorize farmers growing hemp and oysters, and allow electric membership corporations to provide broadband internet service.

Bradford said the Right to Farm Bill (House Bill 545), which would enhance right-to-farm protections, is eligible for further consideration during the 2020 session. Although the Georgia House and the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the bill, it did not come to a vote on the Senate floor.

“Issues this important only come along every so often,” Bradford said. “It would protect agriculture and your farm’s vitality for years to come.”

Bradford noted that a federal precedent has been set with a set of verdicts in North Carolina, where trial lawyers recruited 541 plaintiffs and filed 26 class-action lawsuits against hog farmers and their integrators, resulting in more than $574 million in damages awarded to the plaintiffs.

Georgia’s current right-to-farm law is similar to the one in North Carolina. Georgia is a prime target, Bradford said, because of commodities produced here.

“We know that trial lawyers are shopping these cases around the state,” Bradford said. He asked

GFB members to reach out to legislators and explain why farmers need HB 545.

Farmer engagement crucial

GFB Advocacy and Policy Development Coordinator Katie Duvall stressed the importance of farmers remaining engaged in the lawmaking process – by interacting with legislators and voting. Duvall noted the total number of registered voters in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties are enough to offset 87 rural counties.

“Our membership is our biggest strength,” Duvall said. “You, as our commodity advisory committees, have the ability to impact every district. You represent every Farm Bureau district in the state, including metro Atlanta. That means collectively we at Farm Bureau with our 158 county offices can also impact every legislative district in the state.”

Duvall encouraged GFB farmer members to sign up with the organization’s Advocacy Action Center, which provides legislative updates according to farmers’ interests throughout the year. To sign up, text “GFB Action” to 52886.

EPA working with ag

One of the Environmental Protection Agency’s priorities under the Trump Administration is to engage more effectively with agriculture, EPA Region 4 Chief of Staff Blake Ashbee said. While the agency remains committed to protecting air, soil and water, the EPA intends to do so while remaining faithful to the rule of law and working within its authority.

“There’s no better example of the administration’s efforts to rebalance power at the EPA than our efforts on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule,” Ashbee said. “This is an area that created real uncertainty for land owners under the previous administration.”

The latest WOTUS proposal the EPA has put forth aims to end the patchwork approach to implementing the rule and instead create uniformity and clarity for landowners, Ashbee said.      

The latest revised rule defines six categories of water that would be subject to WOTUS: traditional navigable waters; tributaries to those waters; certain ditches that were constructed to be navigable or tributaries; certain lakes and ponds, impoundments; and wetlands adjacent to any of the other five components.

The EPA also recognizes farmers’ need for effective herbicides to control invasive weeds.

“We’ve heard from many of you that access to dicamba is important,” Ashbee said.

EPA extended dicamba’s registration for two years last fall and the herbicide will be up for registration review in December 2020.

Regarding glyphosate, Ashbee said, “The EPA continues to find it’s not a carcinogen and is safe to use when used according to label.”

EPA's independent evaluation of scientific data on glyphosate included a more extensive and relevant dataset than the International Agency on the Research for Cancer study that described the herbicide as "probably carcinogenic for humans." 

Support pro-ag candidates

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Dist. 8), who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, encouraged farmers to support candidates who understand and support agriculture with their time and donations to ensure that farmers continue to have a voice in Congress.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. What I do care about is that when we go to the polls in a November election that we have someone who can support agriculture. In some cases, we’re getting two candidates to the ballot who don’t understand or support agriculture,” Scott said. “Let’s make sure we’ve got pro-ag Democrats and pro-ag Republicans on the ballot.”

While Georgia currently has a U.S. Congressional delegation that supports agriculture, Scott expressed concern that agriculture and rural America are losing support overall in Congress. He wants farmers to understand the importance of electing candidates who understand and support rural issues.

“Our primaries of both parties are being controlled by outside groups that are raising tremendous amounts of money. We’re in danger of getting candidates from both parties who know nothing about agriculture and don’t support it.”

Swine flu could help poultry; lab-grown protein headed to stores

U.S. poultry producers are likely to see the biggest benefit from the world’s decreased pork supply caused by the outbreak of African Swine Flu (ASF) in China and Eastern Europe, American Farm Bureau Economist Michael Nepveux said. U.S. beef and pork producers may see increased demand for their product, but poultry should see more demand because it’s cheaper to raise than beef and pork, and it only takes six weeks to raise a chicken.

Nepveux said Rabobank estimates 30 to 50% of China’s pig herd will be gone by the end of the year. China raised half of the world’s pigs before ASF hit the country, Nepveux said.

Nepveux also discussed the development of lab-grown protein products.

“Currently companies are trying to mimic mushy meat products such as ground beef, chicken nuggets and foie gras, but companies are working on developing products that resemble muscle meat,” Nepveux said. “It’s hard to say when these lab-grown products will reach the market, but it will be sooner than you think. The cost of production for these products is coming down and becoming less of an issue.”

He explained that these products are made by taking cells from animals, dead or alive, combining the cells with a growth medium, often a calf fetus, that feeds the cells to multiply and “grow” a protein product.

The Food & Drug Administration has regulatory authority over cell collection and the growth process in the lab. The USDA will regulate cell harvest, processing and product labeling.

Controlling feral hogs

Matt Ondovchik of USDA Wildlife Services gave an update on efforts to control feral hogs, which have spread to 40 states.

“Eradication is not feasible with the tools we currently have. Our goal and our objective in Georgia is to manage the damage these animals cause,” Ondovchik said.

 According to a 2007 USDA estimate, feral pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in annual ag damage nationwide. Ondovchik suggested annual damage now exceeds $2 billion.

Large-scale trapping is the most effective control method currently available, Ondovchik said. He tries to persuade producers not to use small cage traps. He recommends trapping large groups of pigs rather than two or three at a time.

Ondovchik noted that the 2018 farm bill included funding for the pursuit of feral swine control. The USDA has plans for field trials in the near future using sodium nitrite, which is toxic to swine, as a bait for depopulating.

Pardue: Technology an advantage for agriculture

UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES) Dean Sam Pardue touted the college’s accomplishments, noting that roughly 75% of royalties generated by UGA patents originated with CAES research. He noted that with the variety of challenges that face agriculture, developing agricultural technology becomes more important.

He also shared CAES’ vision for a new $54 million poultry science building on the university’s South Campus in Athens, as well as a new $111 million plant sciences building, also in Athens. Pardue said the college would pursue funding for the buildings through public/private partnerships.

“The challenge that we have is we don’t know what the future is going to be like. I’m sure it’s going to be more challenging from a labor perspective, from markets, from regulatory, from environmental, so it is our job to prepare. Not for the next two years, but for the next five, 10, 15 years,” Pardue said, asking for input as CAES moves forward. “I want somebody to throw up their hand and say, ‘Hey, have you thought about this?’ I hope that Farm Bureau will feel like they have the freedom to say, ‘hey, have you thought about X?’”

Pardue said the 2019 Georgia Legislature budgeted for two new precision ag positions to be based at UGA Tifton, as well as 12 new Extension agents around the state. 

CAES Assistant Dean for the UGA-Tifton Campus Joe West said the campus has received a $3.6 million grant to fund research on controlling whiteflies – a pest that has been plaguing vegetable and row crop growers in recent years.