State legislatures throughout the Southeast are currently in session or soon will be, and a host of farm-related issues are on their agendas.
In Alabama, the state's Farmers Federation is eyeing several legislative priorities, “three being the direct results of earlier attempts by government agencies to place additional burdens on farmers, both financially and through cumbersome regulations,” according to the group.
The legislative session, which begins on March 6 and ends on June 18, will be a challenging one for farmers and rural property owners, says Alabama Farmers Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson.
The Federation, says Patterson, will support an exemption of agricultural and other vehicles up to 26,001 pounds from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation. The federal rule could force farmers to apply for an intrastate U.S. Department of Transportation number, which brings with it numerous other requirements normally associated with large commercial trucking companies.
Last year, the Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) announced plans to implement a new rule that targeted hunting lodges and preserves as a new source of tax revenue. Several Federation members received letters from the ADOR instructing them to register with the department for the purposes of paying lodging, sales and amusement taxes. The rule also would have removed agricultural tax exclusions for feed, seed and fertilizer for such operations.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King thwarted the plan when he issued an opinion that said such hunting establishments were not subject to the tax.
Patterson says the Federation will back legislation to specifically exclude such hunting operations from lodging and amusement taxes.
Will offer support
The Federation also will support measures expanding the definition of “agriculture” and “agricultural” to cover recreational or educational activities directly involving or relating to the production of farm products, fishing and wildlife activities.
Legislation to promote the use and production of alternative fuels also will be a priority for the Federation during the session, Patterson says.
“Biofuel demand and production is rising at a rapid pace,” he says. “It's good for the environment, it's good for national security, it's good for farmers, it's good for equipment and it's good for the economy. Alabama farmers will benefit from the increase in demand for their products. We can improve this new market for farmers by providing state incentives for them to produce biofuel products and to use them on their farms.”
The Federation plans to work with a coalition that includes the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to insure a biofuels bill that benefits Alabama farmers. The Federation also will be pushing for language that allows a farmer who produces a product used in biofuel production to be eligible for an income tax credit on any biofuel they use on the farm.
In addition, the Federation supports a measure to establish a fund for promotion, education and research of biofuels that would encourage its use. It also could increase research for new sources of biofuels from agriculture and forest products.
An effort to improve the business service of the secretary of state's office to enhance its lien-filing process also is being backed by the Federation. The Federation favors using a technological approach to help streamline services and expedite filing services.
Patterson says he expects some groups to propose a Constitutional Convention again this year in an attempt to raise taxes and give home rule to local governments.
“We oppose a convention as a method of changing Alabama's current constitution,” he says. “We support only those changes that would improve Alabama by giving its citizens more of a role in their government, not less.”
Patterson says the Federation also will keep a close watch on state budgets and will seek funding for projects such as “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” Alabama's career and technical programs, fire ant management and research at Alabama's land grant colleges.
The Georgia Farm Bureau has set the following priority issues for its General Assembly:
Water — The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is charged with presenting a Statewide Water Management Plan to the Georgia Water Council this summer. The Water Council will then present it to next year's General Assembly for consideration, and much debate is expected between now and then. Water issues affect everything from the right to use water to private property rights, and the Farm Bureau urges its members to be a part of that discussion.
Poultry health — Georgia is the No. 1 poultry state in the nation, and more than 40 percent of all farm gate income is generated by poultry. “An outbreak of avian influenza would be catastrophic for the industry, and our growers. Farm Bureau members will work to prevent such an outbreak or contain an event should it occur. It is imperative that growers have indemnification protection,” according to the group.
Renewable fuels — The time has come for the United States to aggressively chart a course for energy independence. Fuel derived from farm products and by-products is the key. The Georgia Farm Bureau will support all efforts to lead America down this path whether through research, incentives, or other reasonable means.
The University of Georgia College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences — “The college has benefited farmers and all Americans for generations. We will work to support a strong Cooperative Extension Service, agricultural specialists and experiment stations. We will strive to secure adequate resources to fund these institutions. We oppose the closing of any agricultural experiment station,” states the Farm Bureau.