The 2001 session of the Georgia General Assembly was a successful one for the state's farmers, according to officials with the Georgia Farm Bureau.

“With the help of many volunteer leaders across the state, several priority bills having a direct effect on Georgia's farm families were approved by the General Assembly,” according to the Farm Bureau's legislative report.

One of these priority issues was a bill directing the governor to appoint a farmer to the Board of Natural Resources. This measure, known as House Bill 33, was amended in the House and Senate but the final version of the bill cemented the farmer position on the DNR Board.

After the House amended the Senate version of the bill, the Senate agreed to the final product by a vote of 39-9. The bill currently is awaiting action by Gov. Roy Barnes.

Georgia Farm Bureau also worked to insure passage of House Bill 89, which limits the liability of owners and operators of farms specializing in pick-your-own agricultural or forestry products. The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 157-10 vote and passed the senate by a vote of 48-0. It also is awaiting action by the governor.

Senate Bill 95, sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Harold Ragan, will create the Agricultural Water Conservation Incentive Program. The program is designed to help farmers implement “best management practices” (BMP's) in an effort to improve water quality and foster greater water conservation.

Leaders in both the House and Senate will form a joint study committee to research the program and create rules and regulations to implement the cost-share program prior to the bill being approved by the Legislature. The committee will be appointed by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House later this year and will include the chairmen of the House and Senate natural resources committees and two individuals from the agricultural community.

Senate Bill 95 passed the Senate by a vote of 50-0 and currently is in the House Agriculture Committee where Chairman Robert Ray will carry the legislation next year.

Listed below are the budget and legislative highlights approved during this most recent session of the Legislature. Agricultural projects were funded in both the supplemental budget and the FY 2001 budget.

  • $3,523,774 — To fund 60 positions at the Environmental Protection Division for water quality data management study.

  • $800,000 — To fund water resource planning in southwest Georgia.

  • $695,040 — To provide additional maintenance and operation funding for the Agricultural Experiment Station.

  • $401,668 — To provide additional maintenance and operation funding for the Cooperative Extension Service facilities.

  • $200,000 — To provide funding to the Agricultural Experiment Stations for a study of the potential for mushrooms as a cash crop.

  • $185,000 — To provide for an additional apple and grape specialist, support staff and operating expenses for the Cooperative Extension Service.

  • $87,000 — To provide funding for a research scientist to study pest management in peaches at the Agricultural Experiment Station.

  • $80,000 — To provide funding for research in converting bio-mass into fuel at the Agricultural Experiment Station.

  • $30,000 — To provide funding to support onion research through the Agricultural Experiment Station.

The 2002 state budget totaled more than $15.4 billion. Of these funds, $149 million come from tobacco settlement money and more than $550 million are lottery proceeds. Also, 55 percent of the state budget is spent on education.

e-mail: phollis58@mindspring.com