State legislatures throughout the Southeast have ended or are ending their regular sessions, with several issues relating to agriculture being considered.
Most states in the region continue to face severe budget shortfalls, with the impacts being felt by universities and their agricultural research and Extension programs.
In Alabama, farm interests are considering it a major victory that the Family Farm Preservation Act passed and has been signed into law by Gov. Bob Riley. The governor also signed a bill making it more convenient for bird hunting preserves to license groups of hunters.
The Family Farm Preservation Act prevents law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance. The bill was amended to exclude new or expanding CAFOs that raise pork and to restate the judge’s authority to require the plaintiff to pay the farmer’s legal fees, if the lawsuit is frivolous.
“This is one of the best things this Legislature could have done this session,” says state Sen. Kim Benefield of Woodland, who sponsored the legislation. “For our farmers, this will hopefully give them peace of mind when they go to bed at night. Maybe now they will only have to worry about the weather — things only God can control.”
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby says the legislation is needed because of increasing challenges to the right to farm by people who don’t understand production agriculture.
“As development spreads farther into the rural areas of Alabama, this legislation has become more important,” says Newby. “Often, newcomers don’t understand modern agricultural practices and seek legal action to stop farmers’ efforts to be good neighbors. They can find themselves spending a fortune in legal fees to defend their way of life.”
Another bill passed by the Alabama Legislature insures that livestock care and handling regulations will be uniform throughout the state. The bill updates the state veterinarian’s responsibilities to include “care of livestock, animal husbandry practices and control of contagious and infectious diseases of livestock.” It also strengthens penalties for animal cruelty by establishing minimum fines for repeat offenders.
“Passage of this bill will prevent local and county governments from establishing a patchwork of different laws governing livestock care and handling,” says Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs. “Without this protection we could see regulations that would cripple the state’s livestock industry and hinder economic growth.”
Another bill signed by the governor gives hunting preserves the option of buying an annual license for $500 to cover hunters on the property who do not already have the appropriate license.
Despite projected revenue shortfalls, agriculture-related programs and projects fared well in the education and general fund budgets passed by the Alabama Legislature, according to officials with the Alabama Farmers Federation.
The education budget included $2.26 million for the Career Technology Initiative, which provides grants to fund extended contracts for vocational agribusiness teachers. The allocation is the same as the FY 2010 budgeted amount, but down $1 million from the governor’s recommendation. The Rural Medical Scholars Program at the University of Alabama also was funded at the 2010 budgeted level of $454,545.
The Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance saw its funding increase by 11 percent to $6.2 million. Within the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station budget, fire ant research and eradication was again funded at $147,073, and poultry research remained unchanged at $40,854, but the poultry technology center received a new appropriation of $250,000.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ $14.8 million budget reflects about an 11 percent cut from last year. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management received $277,200 to reimburse farmers for concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) registration fees. The amount represents a 12 percent reduction from the 2010 budget and is 21 percent less than the $350,000 approved for 2009. The Alabama Farmers Market Authority saw its budget cut by 29 percent from last year and 56 percent, when compared to two years ago.
The Soil and Water Conservation Committee was funded at $4.7 million, about 2 percent less than last year. Within that appropriation is $150,000 in state matching funds for the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). Last year, $200,000 was budgeted for the program, which is designed to increase the development of on-farm irrigation.
Funding for the Alabama Forestry Commission was cut $860,000 or about 6 percent, when compared to the 2010 budget.
In Georgia, agriculture took its share of budget cuts, but the reductions were not nearly as severe as some of the original proposals, one of which proposed eliminating 4-H programs in the state.
A few highlights from the final budget include:
• Full funding for the Vidalia Onion Research Project.
• A 9-percent cut to the Vocational Ag Education and Career Tech Education.
• Elimination of funding for the Farmer’s and Consumer’s Market Bulletin. However, subscription fees, donations or other funds from the Department of Agriculture may be used to continue its publication.
• A 10-percent cut to Cooperative Extension and 4-H.
• A 10-percent cut to Experiment Stations.
• $10.5 million for Forest Land Protection Grants.