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December 30, 2010   Email to Friend  Download PDF of this Issue

Roby appointed to House Ag Committee

U.S. Rep.-elect Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, recently met with leaders of the Alabama Farmers Federation to discuss her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee. Roby also will serve on the House Armed Services Committee. She will be sworn in as the District 2 Congresswoman Jan. 5, 2011.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby recently congratulated U.S. Rep.-Elect Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, on her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee.

"We are very happy that Congresswoman Roby sought and secured a seat on the House Agriculture Committee, and we know she will do a great job of representing the farmers of District 2 and Alabama agriculture as a whole," Newby said. "Agriculture is our state's top industry and is especially important to the communities Congresswoman Roby serves. She understands the importance of farming to our state and shares the homegrown values of our members. We are confident Congresswoman Roby will be a strong advocate for the men and women who produce our food and fiber."

Roby's district includes three of Alabama's top five peanut-producing counties; three of the top five cotton counties, and the fourth-largest poultry county, according to the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service.

Established in 1820, the Committee on Agriculture has jurisdiction over federal agriculture policy, and its prime objective is to oversee legislation for the maintenance of healthy agricultural production.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman-elect Frank Lucas of Oklahoma announced Roby's appointment to the committee, along with 15 other new Republican congressmen.

The 16 new Republicans on the House Ag Committee for the 112th Congress are: Rick Crawford (AR), Scott DesJarlais (TN), Renee Elmers (NC), Stephen Fincher (TN), Bob Gibbs (OH), Chris Gibson (NY), Vicky Hartzler (MO), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Randy Hultgren (IL), Reid Ribble (WI), Martha Roby (AL), Bobby Schilling (IL), Austin Scott (GA), Steve Southerland (FL), Marlin Stutzman (IN) and Scott Tipton (CO).


Congress passes estate tax relief bill

Congress delivered an early Christmas present to farm and ranch families on Dec. 16 when the House voted in favor of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.

The House voted 277-148 to approve the $859 billion bill that extends the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for two years and sets the estate tax at 35 percent with a $5 million exemption through 2012. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 81-19 on Dec. 15. It now goes to the president for his signature.

"Securing meaningful estate tax reform for farm and ranch families has been a top priority for Farm Bureau," said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. "We are pleased the House left intact the estate tax provision that provides a $5 million exemption and maximum rate of 35 percent."

Other tax provisions included in the legislation, and important for farmers, include lower capital gains and income taxes and tax incentives for renewable fuels.

"We commend President Obama and congressional leaders for being committed to securing passage of this tax bill," Stallman said. "It offers considerable relief that will help farmers, ranchers and rural communities in these difficult economic times."

Although 2010 was an estate tax-free year, under a tax law passed in 2001 the tax would have returned Jan. 1, 2011, with a top rate of 55 percent and a $1 million exemption.

Eighty four percent of farm assets are real estate-based and had the tax rate returned to the 2001 level, surviving family members may have been forced to sell land, buildings or equipment to pay the tax.


Entries sought for Alabama's Farm of Distinction Contest

The Alabama Farm-City Committee is seeking applications for Alabama's 2011 Farm of Distinction competition, which recognizes outstanding farmers and rewards them with cash and other prizes. The deadline for applications is Feb. 11.

Based on the applications submitted, division winners will be chosen from five areas of the state, plus one at-large winner. These six farms will then compete for the state title and prizes valued at more than $10,000.

SunSouth, TriGreen and Snead Ag Supply will donate a new John Deere Gator to the 2011 winner. In addition, the Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC) will present each division winner with a $250 gift certificate and the state winner with a $1,000 gift certificate redeemable at any of its Quality Co-op stores. The state winner also will receive a $2,500 cash award from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla.

Division winners will be judged by a panel of agricultural experts who visit each farm. The state winner will be announced during the annual Alabama Farm-City Awards program April 11 in Birmingham. Alabama's winner will go on to represent the state in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition at the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, Ga., on Oct. 18-20.

"Agriculture is still Alabama's No. 1 industry, employing about 20 percent of its total workforce," said Jeff Helms, chairman of the Alabama Farm-City Committee and director of public relations and communications for the Federation. "The Farm of Distinction program is one way we can showcase the best farms in our state, recognizing them for hard work, conservation, good management and innovative thinking."

Farms will be judged on environmental stewardship, overall appearance, accomplishments, efficiency and leadership of the farm owner. Any size farm is eligible. Shep and Rite Morris of Morris & Morris Farms in Shorter won last year's contest. Full-time farmer for 25 years, the Morrises currently farm 3,450 acres with 2,600 acres of rented land and 850 acres of owned land.

The Farm of Distinction Award is presented annually by the Farm-City Committee of Alabama. Applications for the 2011 Farm of Distinction can be downloaded at www.AlfaFarmers.org. For more information, call 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4212 or email jhelms@alfafarmers.org.


Horticulture sales climb to $11.7 billion

Total sales of horticultural crops increased by 10 percent to $11.7 billion between 1998 and 2009, according to USDA's Census of Horticultural Specialties.

"Despite the recent economic downturn, the U.S. horticulture industry as a whole is showing resilience by increasing diversification of the products produced," said Joe Prusacki, National Agricultural Statistics Service division director. "Food crop production has shown the largest growth in this sector of agriculture, possibly a link to increased consumer interest in fresh fruits and vegetables."

The census results show a more than average sales increase for bedding plants, nursery stock and propagative materials. A downturn in sales was documented for cut flowers (down 21 percent), foliage plants (down 14 percent) and cut Christmas tree sales (down 3 percent).

The number of Christmas tree farms is declining across the United States, with farmers describing the year-round business as labor-intensive. Increased costs for chemicals make it tough to earn a profit, they said. The National Christmas Tree Association cites USDA data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture that shows the number of live Christmas tree farms nationally declined by more than 7 percent from 2002 to 2007, the most recent year for the census.


Calendar gives pointers for backyard bird owners

From hens to herons and parrots to Polish chickens, the 2011 Backyard Biosecurity: Keeping Your Birds Healthy calendar has your bird covered. Produced by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the free calendar offers tips, advice and simple steps to keep backyard birds healthy and disease-free. The information is applicable to backyard flock owners as well as to larger poultry producers.

The calendar is one of many tools APHIS has been using since it launched the Biosecurity for Birds outreach initiative in 2004. The effort was in response to a huge avian disease outbreak that started in 2002. While a majority of the birds lost during that outbreak were from commercial poultry operations, many were part of backyard flocks or belonged to bird enthusiasts. To order a free calendar, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity.


Alfa and state educators launch "Drive Smart" campaign

From left are State School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Morton, student advisers Sarah Bethea of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery and Katie Wendland of Autauga Academy in Autaugaville, Alabama Independent School Association Director Don Oswald and Alfa Insurance President Jerry Newby at the press conference Dec. 17.
Alfa Insurance President Jerry Newby, along with State School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Morton and Alabama Independent School Association Director Don Oswald, officially launched a safe driving campaign Dec. 17 aimed at saving lives by increasing awareness of the dangers caused by distracted driving.

The Alfa Drive Smart initiative offers Alabama high school students an opportunity to creatively express their thoughts and concerns about distracted driving, particularly texting and driving, to help educate and influence fellow teens and older drivers to "drive smart." Through an online video contest that begins Jan. 1 and ends March 31, 2011, Alfa will award prizes to the student or student group that produces the best video discouraging distracted driving. Videos can be up to one minute in length.

"Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers," Newby said. "Anything that distracts a driver, young or old, causes us great concern. Through this project, we hope to prove to all drivers, and especially teenagers, that their safety is far more important than any phone call or text message."

The first-place winner or group will receive one iPad plus $1,500 in cash. The winning student's (or group's) school will receive $1,500. The second-place winner will receive one iPod Touch plus $1,000 in cash. The school of the second-place winner or group will receive $1,000. The third-place winner or group will receive one iPod Nano plus $750 in cash. The school of the third-place winner or group will be awarded $750.

Morton and Oswald thanked Alfa for sponsoring the contest and echoed Newby's remarks. Both school officials have endorsed the campaign and are encouraging students to participate in the contest.

"I have one primary concern that ranks above all others - the safety and well-being of Alabama's young people," Morton said. "I hope this contest challenges students to use their imagination and creativity to develop a message of safety that resonates across the state and the country."

Oswald said the tragedy of teenagers injured or killed in automobile accidents is all too familiar to him.

"Sadly, many of our member schools, students and families have been impacted by the unnecessary and avoidable incidents that result from careless behavior while driving," Oswald said. "This program should serve as a wonderful outlet for students to express their thoughts and concerns with their peers." The contest entry form and contest rules are online at AlfaDriveSmart.com.

Approved contest entries will be posted to the site.


Food safety awaits president's signature

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping bill aimed at making food safer following recent contaminations in peanuts, eggs and produce, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. The legislation passed Dec. 21 and would give the government broad new powers to inspect processing plants, order recalls and impose stricter standards for imported foods. The $1.4 billion bill would also require larger farms and food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans and tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production.

The Federation opposed the bill, and Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby both voted "no." The small-farmer exemption made the bill more palatable to Federation members, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the cost.


Auction raises funds for Ag in the Classroom

Bidders looked over items donated for the silent auction held at the Alabama Farmers Federation's 89th annual meeting. The auction benefited the Alabama Ag in the Classroom program and raised more than $7,000.
The Alabama Farmers Federation Young Farmers Division coordinated efforts for a auction held at the organization's 89th annual meeting in Mobile Dec. 5-6.

The silent auction, which featured items donated from several county Federations as well as individuals, raised more than $7,000 for Alabama's Ag in the Classroom program. Ag in the Classroom educates children, through their teachers, about where their food and fiber comes from.

Through the program, teachers attend a summer institute that provides educational opportunities that allow them to share with students the nutritional and economic importance of the food and fiber systems in their lives.


All Alabama counties are eligible for disaster assistance

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack has designated all 67 Alabama counties as areas of primary natural disaster due to losses caused by drought and excessive heat during the period of March 1, 2010, and continuing.

A secretarial disaster designation makes farm operators in all designated counties eligible to be considered for assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met.

This assistance includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance. SURE Program applications for 2010 crop losses will be accepted in 2011, when the 2010 farm revenue data required by statute becomes available.

For more information contact your local FSA office.



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