Ag News

Deer, truck weights, navigable waters big topics at GFB district visits

by Jennifer Whittaker

Posted on Jun 27, 2024 at 11:02 AM

Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) continued its County Voices, Capitol Choices (CVCC) meeting series with stops in Cochran, Metter, Camilla, Plains and Ocilla between June 10 and June 20.

GFB President Tom McCall provided each district with updates on notable ag-related legislation during the 2024 Georgia General Assembly session, introduced state legislators and other guests in attendance and recognized recipients of Georgia Foundation for Agriculture (GFA) scholarships.

Regional leaders for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) discussed what the agency is doing to mitigate ongoing challenges farmers face with nuisance wildlife, including tweaks to the Deer Depredation Permit process.

GFB held it’s CVCC meeting for the organization’s 6th District at Greene Acres Farm in Dodge County. Attendees heard updates on state legislation and the federal farm bill. Georgia Rep. Danny Mathis, who represents House District 149, which includes all of Bleckley, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Dodge counties and portions of Telfair County was a special guest.

GFB President Tom McCall discussed legislation the Georgia General Assembly passed this year, Georgia House Bill 1172, that restores private property rights to landowners adjacent to navigable waters eroded by SB 115 last year. HB 1172 is important because it addresses unattended consequences from previous legislation concerning public trust doctrine while still allowing the public to pass, hunt, and fish on navigable waters, which was the original intent of the legislature when it passed SB 115. While HB 1172 resolved significant property rights concerns, it has opened the door to further conversations surrounding water policy in the state. A Georgia House Study Committee will meet in coming months to determine what the definition of a navigable stream will be.

Rep. Mathis (Dist. 149) sang the praises of event hosts Earl and Leigh Anne Greene and what their farm and agritourism venue means to the area. Mathis serves on the Georgia House Agriculture Committee.

“I’m so glad to have y’all meeting here at Greene Acres Farms in my district. I can’t say enough good things about this farm and what it means to our community. As an agritourism attraction it draws visitors to Dodge County by offering you-pick strawberries and peaches and the beautiful flowers visitors can cut. Folks from miles around enjoy driving out to see the Christmas lights. My family has held birthday parties for my grandchildren as many other families have.”

Telfair County Farm Bureau President Neal Stanley expressed his appreciation for GFB holding the CVCC meetings and the advocacy work Farm Bureau does on behalf of Georgia farmers.

“I think most farmers don’t know the impact Farm Bureau has on legislation on our behalf. Someone has to stand up and represent us,” Stanley said. “Attending meetings like this gives you the chance to get updates on ag issues and what Farm Bureau is doing. It also lets me meet my legislators and express my opinions and concerns. If I have the opportunity to positively impact something for my county, then I feel attending this type of meeting is worthwhile.”

GFA Scholarship recipient Hannah Williams of Telfair County was recognized at the Cochran meeting.

During the Metter meeting at Dutch Ford Farm on June 11, Farm Bureau members talked with Reps. Leesa Hagan, who represents House District 156, Bill Werkheiser (House District 157) and Sen. Billy Hickman (Senate District 4), as well as Chris Baumann from the WRD.

Hagan lauded GFB for the survey it conducted last fall about crop damage caused by deer.

The survey drew responses from 340 Georgia farmers, who reported a total of 111,000 acres of crops damaged by dear at an estimated cost of $35.8 million. If these losses were extrapolated statewide using 2022 NASS acreage data and 2022 UGA average commodity prices, the statewide impact of deer crop damage could be estimated at $392 million in yield loss just for corn, cotton, peanuts and soybeans on more than 1 million acres.

“I talked to the farmers in my area, and I asked, what's your main concern right now? All last year it was deer and the damage that they're doing,’ Hagan said. “So, we actually have some data now thanks to those of you who responded to the survey.”

Damage from deer eating foliage from emerging crops has compounded other factors affecting farm cash flow, according to AgSouth Farm Credit Lending Officer Cassie Justen, who joined farmers in urging the legislature to come up with a solution.

“DNR needs to do something. They [farmers] try everything,” Justen said. “There's different applications that they can buy and invest to spray, to try to ward off the deer. And it works in some cases a little bit, but there's more input costs going into the crop per acre. Right up front, you're $600 an acre just to get it in the dirt.”

The Metter meeting also included a discussion on limits to how much fuel can be transported via public roads.

GFA Scholarship recipients Eben Banks of Tattnall County and Holt Sapp of Burke County were recognized during the Metter meeting.

At the Camilla meeting on June 18, state Reps. Chas Cannon (Dist. 172), Joe Campbell (Dist. 171), and Sen. Sam Watson (Dist. 11) were introduced, along with Paul Fryer from the office of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jody Redding from the governor’s office and Brian Vickery from WRD.

Cannon’s House District 172 includes all of Colquitt County and portions of Cook and Thomas counties. Campbell’s House District 171 includes all of Decatur and Mitchell counties and part of Grady County. Watson’s House District 11 includes Brooks, Colquitt, Cook, Decatur, Grady, Seminole, and Thomas counties.

Cannon discussed issues considered by the Georgia General Assembly in 2024 that are likely to come up again in 2025, including the Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA) and a coming ballot initiative related to homestead tax exemptions.

“We worked on some CUVA issues where solar [panels] are an issue. We tried to make the CUVA exemption go away for solar,” Cannon said, explaining that installing solar panels on farmland would be considered a breach of the CUVA covenant. “If it’s commercial or a development, it should breach the covenant.”

Paul Fryer from U.S. Rep. Bishop's office discussed the farm bill progress. Fryer said Bishop was one of four Democrats who voted in favor of the marked-up bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee in late May.

The interaction between farmers and public officials is a critical part of GFB’s work, according to Decatur County Farm Bureau Secretary/Treasurer Bobby Barber.

“You’ve got Mr. McCall down here, Sanford Bishop's office and our state team, they're here. You want to show them that you're supporting them, but we need their support at the same time,” Barber said.

At the Plains meeting on June 19, state Rep. Mike Cheokas, who represents Dist. 151, which includes all of Chattahoochee, Marion, Schley, Stewart and Webster counties and part of Sumter County and Vickery were on hand to interact with farmers.

GFA Scholarship recipients Daniel and Stephen Peterson of Lowndes County, Eva Wessels of Lee County and Andrew Carnley of Houston County were recognized during the meeting in Plains.

GFB held the last of its CCVC meetings June 20 with a meeting for the organization’s 10th District at Paulk Vineyards in Irwin County. Irwin County Farm Bureau President Gary Paulk welcomed those attending the meeting to his family’s farm. Legislative guests included Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tyler Harper, Sen. Agriculture Committee Chairman Russ Goodman, Georgia House Whip Rep. James Burchett, retiring Ga. Rep. Clay Pirkle, Jody Redding with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and Georgia House candidates Jacklyn Ford and Angie O’Steen.

 “There’s a lot going on in agriculture right now and your Georgia Department of Agriculture staff are working hard to find ways to address that by trying to find resources and get help for our farmers to get them across the finish line,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper said. “The weather we’ve already had this planting season is a perfect example of when having a permanent disaster package in the farm bill would help farmers.”

Harper said the GDA is in the process of getting information from farmers on the losses they sustained from heavy rain during planting season and now drought conditions to pass along to Farm Service Agency.

Commissioner Harper reminded farmers that diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) has been added to the list of ag inputs that qualify for a sales tax exemption for farmers with a GATE card.

Georgia Sen. Russ Goodman, who represents Senate Dist. 8 (Atkinson, Clinch, Echols, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce & Ware counties) discussed legislation the Georgia General Assembly passed in 2023 that increased the allowable weight variance for total gross vehicle weights of commercial trucks carrying certain agricultural or forestry products. The legislation increased the allowable total gross vehicle weight of trucks hauling ag products and timber from 84,000 lbs to 88,000 lbs. The current weight variance sunsets on July 1, 2025, and the ag community is preparing to support legislation that will renew it. Sen. Goodman & House Rep. Steven Meeks authored & supported the legislation.

“Getting legislation passed that increased truck weights was a fight all the way through but we were committed to getting this for Georgia farmers and loggers to level the playing field because every state that touches Georgia allows trucks to haul between 88,000 to 90,000 pounds,” Goodman said. “When my back was to the wall, and I needed sound advice, it was a privilege to be able to turn to Tom McCall for advice. We do what we do in Atlanta so hopefully our kids and yours will be able to continue farming.”

Under the current legislation, trucks hauling ag products or timber with a total gross weight of up to 88,000 must be within 150 miles from point of origin. Trucks may not haul at the higher 88,000 pounds in any Georgia nonattainment zone, which is made up of mostly Metro Atlanta counties - Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, Dekalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale.

Georgia Rep. James Burchett, who represents Dist. 176, which includes Atkinson, Lanier, Lowndes & Ware counties, serves as the House Whip and is a member of the House Ethics, Judiciary, Rules, and Transportation Committees. As House Republican Whip, Burchett is responsible for keeping track of the status of all legislation being considered in the House and ensuring that all House Republicans are present when important bills come up for vote. The House Democrats also have a whip who does the same thing for their party. The person representing the political party with the most members in the House is referenced as the House Whip and the person representing the party with fewer members in the House is referenced as the Minority Whip.

“My district is an agriculture district made up primarily of row crops and timber farms. It’s an honor to serve you all in the House. We’re trying to make it easier for our farmers to make money, and we’re going to continue to advocate on behalf of our farmers.” Burchett said. “I ask that you stay engaged as you have been and that you stay engaged with your legislators,” Burchett said. “When I get a phone call from one of my constituents back home asking me to do something it means more than someone in Atlanta asking me.”

Rep. Burchett authored House Bill 1172 that the Georgia legislature passed this year. The legislation removes reference to the public trust doctrine as it applies to navigable waters and restores private property rights to landowners with property adjacent to navigable water. The bill addresses unintended consequences from Senate Bill 115, that was passed in 2023 while still allowing the public to pass, hunt and fish on navigable waters, the original intent of SB 115.

“We’ve got folks who are paddlers who want to be able to paddle or float navigable water that may run through private property. We understand they have the right to do this on large rivers, but we don’t want them coming up creeks to your farm ponds.”

Retiring Ga. Rep. Clay Pirkle, who represented District 169, which covers Irwin and Turner counties along with areas in Coffee and Tift counties, opted not to run for re-election this year. During his nine years in the Georgia House, Pirkle, who is a farmer, authored and supported numerous pieces of legislation supported by GFB.

“It was an honor to be able to represent you in Atlanta,” Pirkle said. “I don’t have to tell the people in this room that the costs of our farm inputs have gone through the roof while the prices we’re getting for the commodities we’re selling off our farms have gone down. That’s why I’m excited to hopefully have a farm lady [Angie O’Steen] replace me.”

Pirkle praised GFB’s legislative staff, saying, “We can’t do our job in Atlanta without Farm Bureau’s support.”

Angie O’Steen of Coffee County is running to represent Georgia House District 169, the seat retiring Ga. Rep. Clay Pirkle has represented. Angie and her husband, Danny, are farmers and Angie is a registered nurse. The O’Steens are Coffee County Farm Bureau members.

“The most important thing you need to know about me is that I’m a disciple of Christ, who is willing to serve the people of District 169,” Angie said. “I know the people who represent our part of the state are working really hard for us and are taking hits for the people they serve. I’m prepared to do that, too.  As a farmer, I understand what farmers in my area are going through. We’ve had peanuts drown from excess rain this spring and now it’s dry.”

In the May primary Jaclyn Ford of Berrien County was elected as the Republican candidate for Georgia House Dist. 170, which includes portions of Tift, Berrien and Cook counties. She has no Democratic opposition for the November general election. Ford will be replacing Rep. Penny Houston, who opted not to seek re-election after representing the district since 1997.

“My first job after college was with Farm Bureau working in the legislative department for a year. I moved home to run my family’s cotton gin,” Jacklyn said. “Farm Bureau taught me how important it is for farmers to be engaged with their elected officials and  sparked my interest in getting involved with politics.”

Jaclyn was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to serve on the Georgia Economic Development Board in 2019, after serving seven years on the Georgia Farm Service Agency.

She serves on the Georgia Farm Bureau Commodities Committee for Cotton and is a former delegate to the National Cotton Council. Ford is the vice president and chief operating officer of Dixon Gin Co. Jaclyn remains involved in her family farm, growing peanuts, pecans, cotton, corn and cattle in Berrien County. She and her husband, Jake live in Alapaha, where they've raised their two children.

When the floor was open for comments or questions from the audience, the topic farmers wanted to discuss, just as it had been in the CVCC meeting in Metter, was crop loss to deer.

Georgia Farm Bureau 1st Vice President Daniel Johnson expressed the urgency for finding a solution to control deer populations that are feeding on row crops during the growing season. Johnson said deer damage to his row crops cost him about $125,000 last year to replant crops.

Lee Taylor, chief of the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Game Management Section, discussed deer crop depredation permits farmers can get to try to help manage deer populations that are eating farmers’ row crops. Taylor is overseeing the drafting of a new deer management program for Georgia.

Taylor encouraged landowners who lease their farms to hunters for hunting to include language in the leases that require hunters to harvest a certain number of does that will still allow for a healthy deer population on the property. He encouraged landowners to contact their regional DNR offices for recommendations.   

To help farmers fight crop damage that occurs from the time row crops emerge in the spring throughout the growing season, the DNR allows farmers to apply for a deer crop damage permit. Outside of deer season, this permit allows the applicant and up to six other people to shoot deer caught in growing crop fields the applicant has registered.

Visit to apply for a deer crop damage permit from late February through the summer. On the DNR website, select the Licenses & Permits icon, which will take you to a box titled Online Licensing Features. Select Purchase/Reprint a License/Obtain Permits. If you have a Go Outdoors Georgia account, log in to access the crop damage control permit application. If you don't have an account, select the Enroll Now! icon to create an account. While the application to receive a deer damage hunting permit must be completed online, applicants may call 1-800-366-2661 to request help with navigating the online application.

“If you apply for a deer permit and you don’t get a response in 24 hours, please call your district Department of Natural Resources office,” Taylor said.

Berrien County Farm Bureau member Rickey Boyd voiced his opinion that DNR should allow farmers to hunt does in February.

“In February farmers have time to hunt while the days are still short. If we could shoot does in February, we’d be reducing the population before we have to start planting our crops and there would be fewer deer to eat our crops,” Boyd said.

Boyd says he prefers not to put other people on his deer depredation permits for safety reasons.

“I don’t want random people shooting on my land or the land I’m leasing from others,” Boyd said. “I know the fields on my farm and whose house is on the other side of the trees by my fields. I know where equipment is parked that might get shot.

Numerous farmers said after farming all day in the spring and summer, during the months deer depredation permits are available, they don’t have the energy to hunt deer at night.

“I have 150 different fields scattered over 45 miles that I’m farming. I don’t have that many people to put in those fields to hunt,” said Danny O’Steen.

Berrien County farmer Lamar Vickers, who is a GFB 10th District Director, expressed concern that crop loss to deer may be worse this year.

“We’ve had to replant our crops for years after deer eat the first emerging plants. It’s probably cost us between $100,000 to $150,000 a year, but this year due to the wet weather we had in the planting months we’ve planted our crops so late that there’s no time to replant any crops that deer destroy.”

GFA Scholarship recipients Kyle Kitchens-Hayes, of Bryan County, Reagan Baldree, of Ware County, Jarrett Hancock, of Irwin County, and London O’Steen, of Coffee County, were recognized at the meeting at Paulk Vineyards.

GFB also held CVCC meetings in Roberta on May 14, Colbert on May 28, McDonough on June 3, Ellijay on June 4, and Madison on June 6.

  • Categories:
  • Tags: