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December 03, 2010   Email to Friend  Download PDF of this Issue

National Farm-City Meeting

Alabama Farm-City Chairman Jeff Helms, right, visits with panelists at the National Farm-City Symposium Nov. 18 in Lancaster, Pa. From left are Charlene Shupp Espenshade, special sections editor for Lancaster Farming; Jeanne Menapace, a retired attorney and consumer activist who founded HARP (Housewives Against Rising Prices); Chris Pierce, president of Heritage Poultry Management Services in Annville, Pa.; and Helms.

Republicans, Democrats select legislative leaders

Although the Alabama Legislature won't hold its organizational session until Jan. 11, Republican and Democratic legislators already have selected who will provide leadership for the parties during the next four years.

Two days after the Nov. 2 election, which saw Republicans take control of both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in 136 years, GOP lawmakers met and tapped Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, to be House speaker, and Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to be president pro tem of the Senate. Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham, was picked to serve as majority leader in the Senate, and Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is expected to chair the Rules Committee.

Earlier this week, Democrats in the House selected Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, to serve as minority leader. Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, will chair the House Democratic Caucus; Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, was named vice chair; and Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, will serve as minority whip.

In the Senate, Democrats chose Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, to serve as minority leader. The 35-member Senate includes 22 Republicans, 12 Democrats and one Independent. If the Republicans vote together as a caucus, they will be able to secure the 21 votes needed to pass a budget isolation resolution, which is a procedural vote necessary to bring any bill before the Senate prior to passage of the budgets.

In the House, Republicans also have a strong majority. Of the 105-member body, 66 representatives are Republicans, including four members who switched parties since the general election. During the January organizational session, the lawmakers will elect officers, adopt rules, establish standing committees and elect members of certain joint committees of the two houses.

No legislation can be passed during the organizational session, which is limited to 10 days. The general session of the Legislature is set to convene March 1.

Customer Appreciation

Alfa offices in Covington County recently held customer appreciation day. In this photo, employees of the Opp Service Center served hot dogs and soft drinks to customers and held a drawing for prizes for Auburn and Alabama football fans. From left are Alfa Agents Tyler Bryan and Lucky Cope, Customer Service Representative (CSR) Jan Johnson, Supervising CSR Cindy Worley and CSR Sharron Short.

Governor-elect to address farmers at annual meeting

Dr. Robert Bentley, a Tuscaloosa dermatologist whose campaign for more jobs and less taxes vaulted him into the governor's office during last month's gubernatorial elections, will be a special guest during the opening session of the 89th Annual Meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation at Mobile's Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center Dec. 5.

"Alabama's next governor is a man of faith and believes a lot like we do," said Federation President Jerry Newby, referring to the organization's 423,000-plus members. "Maybe that's because he was raised the son of a sawmill worker who instilled in him the kind of work ethic that only those raised in the country can truly understand. Or, maybe it's because of a mother who instilled in him compassion and a strong sense of family values."

Also during the opening session, Dr. John Wheat of the University of Alabama's Rural Medical Scholars Program will be presented the organization's Service To Agriculture Award. Later that evening, almost 1,000 members are expected to attend a concert by country and bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs at the nearby Saenger Theater.

About 1,200 Federation members from throughout the state are expected to attend the meeting.

Other highlights of the two-day meeting include a briefing on current issues facing agriculture, election of officers and board members from four districts and selection of the Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF).

The annual OYFF contest recognizes young farmers between the ages of 17 and 35 who do an outstanding job in farm, home and community activities. The winner, revealed at Monday night's closing session, will receive a John Deere Gator courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit; a personal computer package courtesy of ValCom/CSS Wireless; a one-year lease on a John Deere tractor courtesy of Tri-Green, Sun South and Snead Ag dealers; $500 cash from Dodge; use of a new Chevrolet Traverse from the Alabama Farmers Federation for one year; and other prizes. The winner also goes on to compete at the national level for a new Dodge Ram 3500.

Kirk Smith of Blount County, winner of the Federation's Excellence in Agriculture contest, will be recognized during the closing session. Smith will receive $500 from Dodge; $500 from the Farmers Federation; and will represent Alabama in the national competition in Atlanta. Kelly Pritchett of Pike County was runner-up in the state contest.

Four finalists in the Discussion Meet -- Josh Turner of DeKalb County, Mike Dole of St. Clair County, Katie Hines of Madison County and Allie Corcoran of Barbour County -- will compete during the closing session of the annual meeting. The winner will go on to represent Alabama at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 2011 Discussion Meet in Atlanta.

Outstanding county Farmers Federations and individual and senior farm leaders will be recognized during an awards ceremony Monday morning. Jim Cox of the East Lauderdale News will receive the Federation's Communications Award for excellence in print journalism.

A voting delegates session will elect board seats for Districts 2, 5, 8 and 11, vice-presidents for the Northern and Southeastern Districts and president.

Monitor the annual meeting on AlfaFarmers.org, Facebook or Twitter.com with #ALFAFARMERS2010.

Top Pop Tab Collections

The Alfa Insurance office in Inverness collected the most pop tabs of the eight offices that participated in the Shelby County contest. The office will receive $75 from the Shelby County Farmers Federation. From left are Shelby County Women's Committee Chairman Karen Wyatt, Supervising Customer Service Representative of the Inverness office Pam Pittman, Claims CSR Carolyn Popwell and CSR Nicole Allen. Women's Leadership Committees collect the tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a "home-away-from-home" for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost.

Task force considers estate tax issue

Congressional leaders established a bipartisan task force to find a solution to the estate tax issue during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

On Jan. 1, the estate tax will revert to a $1 million exemption with a 55 percent tax rate unless Congress passes legislation to change the law.

The Alabama Farmers Federation and American Farm Bureau Federation favor repealing the estate tax altogether, but have supported legislation to raise the exemption to $5 million and lower the tax rate to 35 percent. In December 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill, supported by President Obama that would provide for a $3.5 million exemption and a tax rate of 45 percent.

The bipartisan task force has been charged with finding a solution by Dec. 31.

Tuscaloosa Farmer of the Year

Tuscaloosa County Extension Coordinator Wayne Ford, left, presents Darrell and Teresa Johnson with the Tuscaloosa County Farmer of the Year Award during the county's Annual Farm-City Luncheon Nov. 22. The Johnsons operate The Plant Lady Nursery in Duncanville. The luncheon included awards presentations to the county poster contest winners and their schools. The winners will now compete in the Alabama Farm-City poster contest and winners will be recognized in April. State Farm-City Chairman Jeff Helms was the keynote speaker at the event.

USDA disaster assistance deadline is Dec. 9

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) reminds producers they have until close of business on Thursday, Dec. 9, to apply for assistance for 2009 losses under the Crop Assistance Program (CAP).

Up to $550 million in disaster assistance will be issued to producers of rice, upland cotton, soybeans and sweet potatoes for eligible losses because of excessive moisture or related conditions in 2009.

Assistance is available to producers of eligible crops in counties that received secretarial disaster designations as a result of excessive moisture or related conditions in 2009. A list of eligible disaster counties for CAP is located at disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

Hampstead Dedication

Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan joined about 50 officials and volunteers at a Nov. 23 groundbreaking ceremony for the Hampstead Institute Downtown Farm in Montgomery. The 2.7-acre site, located just off Molton Street behind The Montgomery Advertiser building, will be home to an all-natural community farm that grows, harvests and sells locally grown and fresh produce throughout Montgomery. The farm will offer educational opportunities, community garden beds, u-pick fruits, an orchard and a star-gazing hill.

Governor calls special session for ethics reform

Gov. Bob Riley has called a special session of the Alabama Legislature beginning Dec. 8 to consider ethics reform legislation.

Federation Assistant Director of Governmental and Agricultural Programs Brian Hardin said the special session was prompted by the Republican takeover of both the House and Senate in November.

"In recent years, a number of bills have been introduced to address gifts to lawmakers, campaign financing and related issues, however, the Legislature could not muster enough votes to pass significant reforms," Hardin said. "With Republicans now holding a majority of both houses, it is likely some ethics reform bills will pass."

Among the legislation likely to be introduced during the special session is a bill to ban the transfer of money between political action committees as well as bills to require full disclosure of lobbyists' spending on public officials. Another measure would give subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission.

The Federation does not engage in PAC-to-PAC transfers and supports transparency and accountability in government. "We will be closely monitoring any legislation introduced to make sure the ability of our members to voluntarily participate in the electoral process is preserved," Hardin said.

It takes a minimum of five legislative days for a bill to work its way through both houses of the Legislature, but the special session could last two weeks or longer.

Senate passes overhaul of food safety regs

The U.S. Senate approved the biggest overhaul to the nation's food safety laws since the 1930s on Tuesday.

The 73-25 vote would expand authority of the Food and Drug Administration and place new responsibilities on farmers and food companies to prevent contamination.

Mac Higginbotham, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Horticulture and Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Divisions, said farmers' reactions to the bill have been mixed.

"We oppose any new regulations that would place an undue burden on producers," Higginbotham said. "However, the Senate version of the bill passed with an amendment that exempts food producers with less than $500,000 in annual sales if they sell the majority of their food directly to consumers within the state, or within a 275-mile radius of where it was produced."

The legislation also sets safety standards for imported foods. Despite these provisions, many farmers fear the bill would increase their costs and hurt marketing efforts if processors are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on compliance. The estimated cost to taxpayers for the legislation is $1.4 billion, according to Higginbotham.

The Federation opposed the bill, and Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby both voted "no."

"The small-farmer exemption makes the bill more palatable to our members, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the cost," Higginbotham added.

The bill now goes to the House, where a much more stringent food safety bill passed earlier. House leaders indicated they would accept the Senate-passed version in hopes of sending a final bill to the president before the new Congress convenes.

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