GFB members reconnect at annual convention
Georgia farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state met on Jekyll Island Dec. 5-7 for the 84th Annual Georgia Farm Bureau Convention. The three-day event included a trade show and educational sessions that briefed farmers on policy and production issues affecting Georgia’s major commodities.
GFB President Tom McCall delivered his annual address during the general session on Dec. 6. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Dist. 1) and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black also addressed convention attendees that morning.
Georgia Farm Bureau resumed the organization’s traditional format for its 2021 annual convention after holding district meetings limited to voting delegates for its 2020 convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The convention’s “Reconnect” theme could not have been more appropriate as it was the first time in two years that many of the 1,336 convention attendees were seeing their farming friends from around the state.
McCall: We need to amplify our voice
While delivering his first annual address after being elected GFB president last December, McCall pledged to strengthen GFB’s legislative influence and to strengthen Farm Bureau membership.
“With the strong support of the Board of Directors, and the diligent efforts of management and staff, we are earnestly pursuing these goals,” McCall said. “These goals are important because they are the heart and soul of who we are. Strengthening our voice is our basic purpose, and strengthening our membership is key to our existence.”
McCall noted challenges ahead, particularly as Georgia’s population trends toward greater urban concentration, which is reflected in less representation in the state legislature for farming areas.
“From the very beginning, our members have expressed their belief in a strong legislative voice for farmers,” McCall said. “Farm Bureau is ‘The Voice of Georgia Farmers.’ If that is our mission – and I truly believe it is - then it is our responsibility to turn up the volume. We represent everything ag – from apples to zucchini and beyond.”
McCall emphasized proper and accurate messaging directed to legislators who may not be familiar with agricultural business and practices.
“We have county Farm Bureaus in all metropolitan areas of Georgia, and volunteer county leaders from those offices do excellent work building relationships with our urban legislators,” McCall said. “I personally know urban legislators who have a sincere concern for farmers, but unfortunately, they often are not current with the issues. It is our job to educate them. If we do our job, we will accomplish our mission.”
This, he said, includes working with candidates – regardless of party affiliation or geographical designation - prior to elections to they develop a strong understanding of and appreciation for agriculture.
McCall urged GFB members to build and maintain connections with their elected representatives at all levels of government.
Likewise, McCall encouraged members to reconnect with their friends and neighbors and work to expand GFB’s membership.
“We need to reconnect and re-engage with our members,” he said. “Through the years, membership acquisition, which was originally a function of volunteers asking their friends and neighbors to join Farm Bureau, became something we relied on employees in our county offices to do. Today, we must renew our passion for the purpose of this organization, which is to represent and work for each of you. We must work together to find creative and effective ways to grow membership.”
Kemp: Job growth, broadband and fighting regulations key for Georgia’s rural areas
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp discussed achievements his administration has made in bringing economic development projects to Georgia.
“Since I took office, we’ve brought 1,000 projects to Georgia that have invested $23.5 billion in our state and created over 81,000 jobs, many of them in rural Georgia,” Kemp said. “During 2021, 75% of the projects brought to our state have been placed outside Metro Atlanta and will provide over 17,000 jobs for rural Georgia.”
Kemp also discussed efforts being made to bring broadband to rural communities across the state.
He said 19 EMCs are partnering with broadband providers to get highspeed internet access into 77 counties with 236,000 customers, many of whom are set to receive broadband access for the first time.
Kemp praised the U.S. Supreme Court for earlier this year ruling in Georgia’s favor in the water lawsuit Florida brought against Georgia, saying that a different ruling from the court could have devastated Georgia agriculture.
Kemp also acknowledged the U.S. Environmental Agency’s recent efforts to once again rewrite the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule to broaden the agency’s scope of authority over more waters than Congress originally intended.
“I have been, and I will continue to push back against federal regulations that impact Georgia farmers,” Kemp said.
Rep. Carter gives Washington update
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Dist.1) welcomed GFB members to his district where the convention was held and discussed issues our nation is facing such as inflation, disrupted supply chain and trade issues with Mexico.
“Inflation is a tax on the working and middle classes – on those who can least afford it,” Carter said. “Inflation is a result of the policy of this Administration, such as stopping construction on the Keystone pipeline. I believe in climate change, but I’m a staunch advocate of using fossil fuels. We can’t let climate change policies ruin our economy causing the price of fuel to go up.”
Carter also addressed the supply chain crisis affecting delivery of products across the country.
“We’ve got ships waiting out at sea to get into our ports and a shortage of truck drivers,” Carter said. “I know many of you are struggling to get your products out. Hopefully we can get something figured out soon.”
Georgia fruit and vegetable farmers, especially blueberry growers, have been feeling the affect of lower-priced imports from Mexico flooding the U.S. market and driving down prices.
“Trade problems with Mexico are something we’re studying to make sure we have a level trading field. We know you need help because Mexico is implementing unfair trade practices, and we’re working on it.”
Black celebrates GATE, exhorts members to make their voice heard
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black expressed appreciation for his time in office and stressed to GFB members that they work to make their concerns known.
“I’m grateful for the last 11 years and appreciate you letting me serve you in this role,” Black said.
He summarized the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s major achievements during his time in office, which include implementing the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program and refining it through the years to ensure it is properly used. Black said 36,000 Georgians currently qualify for a GATE card.
Black said the Georgia Grown program has helped more than 2,500 cottage food industries across the state get off the ground with dozens of these startups developing into major businesses.
He also noted the department’s work to administer relief funds for farms devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Black encouraged Georgia's ag community to speak out on the political issues that affect farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities.
“The voice of the ag community of the state of Georgia must be heard,” Black said. “It’s going to take you getting out of your comfort zone. We have to get up out of our seats and stand for the principles we believe in. There cannot be a deafening silence from our ag community.”