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March 25, 2011   Email to Friend  Download PDF of this Issue

Senate committee votes to extend deer hunting season

About a half-dozen bills being monitored by the Alabama Farmers Federation received favorable committee reports this week in the Alabama Legislature.

On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee passed SB 124, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, which would extend the hunting season for whitetail deer by two weeks at the close of the season. The bill also changes rules related to the feeding of deer on private land, including placing the feed in specific type feeders. Steve Guy, director of the Federation's Wildlife Division, testified on behalf of the bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills Wednesday related to the liability of landowners and agritourism operators for injuries to visitors on their property. SB 84, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would limit the liability of landowners who lease property for hunting and fishing. SB 85, also sponsored by Sen. Allen, would limit the liability of agritourism operators and require agritourism attractions to post certain warning notices at the entrance to the activity. Both bills were amended in a way that leaves the owner's responsibility for injury open to interpretation. The Federation supported the original bills, but has serious concerns about the amended language.

The Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee passed SB 253 Thursday that would establish a license plate category for mini-trucks and exempt such vehicles from certain title requirements. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill. The companion bill, HB 210 by Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, is assigned to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. The Federation supports these bills.

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee passed a Federation-supported bill, HB 188, giving the Department of Agriculture and Industries authority to approve roadside signage for agritourism operations. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta.

The House County and Municipal Government Committee passed HB 198, sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. The bill would affirm the state's authority to regulate fertilizer and prohibit local governments from regulating it. The companion bill, SB 123 sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, awaits action in the full Senate. The Federation supports this legislation.

Farmers attend Washington conference

Members of the Alabama Farmers Federation attended a luncheon with U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. From left are Debra Dunn of Geneva County, Stanley Usery, Melanie Maples and Tommy Maples of Limestone County and Steve Dunn of Geneva County who were among 150 Alabama farmers in Washington last week.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama, told members of the Alabama Farmers Federation in Washington that farmers and other businesses create jobs, and she promised to help reduce government regulations that stand in their way of doing that.

About 150 Alabama farmers participated in the Federation's Annual Washington Legislative Conference in the nation's capitol March 15-18. Roby, a freshman congresswoman, serves on the House Agriculture Committee. She has been vocal about reeling in the authority of regulatory agencies.

"We in Congress are very frustrated with this agency (Environmental Protection Agency) and others that are overreaching their authority," Roby said. "Every committee is intent on hearing from these agencies and reviewing how they are overburdening our farmers and small businesses. Those agencies are preventing job creation in the United States of America. We know that you (farmers) help create jobs. The government doesn't create jobs, and we won't allow this kind of activity to go unchecked."

Those remarks and others by Roby generated thunderous applause from the Alabama group.

Monica and Chris Carroll of Ariton in Dale County attended the conference and said they were encouraged by Roby's remarks. The Carrolls have a diversified farm that includes poultry, beef cattle and vegetables.

"We'll be out of business if the government keeps hitting us with so many regulations," said Monica Carroll. "It's very important that members of Congress remember that small businesses and agriculture are what drive the country."

Following Roby's talk Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy with American Farm Bureau Federation, briefed conference attendees on the federal budget situation and its impact on the farm bill.

"We are going to have to make some changes, and it's going to be difficult," Thatcher said.

The farm bill is supposed to be rewritten in 2012, but Thatcher said budget cuts could force lawmakers to reopen the existing bill later this year. She predicted conservative lawmakers could force budget reconciliation in May when the government is expected to hit its debt ceiling. Rather than raising that limit, Congress could direct agencies to implement across-the-board cuts.

Although farm bill spending is a tiny fraction of the overall budget, it will likely see deep cuts even if Congress waits until 2012 to rewrite the policy. One reason for the grim outlook is the fact that $18 billion in farm bill spending has been given up since it was authorized, effectively lowering the baseline for the 2012 bill. In addition, funding for 37 programs within the farm bill runs out this year, and supporters of those programs will also be fighting for dollars when negotiations begin next year.

Thatcher noted that 75 percent of farm bill spending is for nutrition programs like food stamps. Only 7 percent goes to traditional commodity programs; another 7 percent is for conservation, and 9 percent goes to crop insurance.

Agriculture Department announces layoffs

The first of three rounds of layoffs hit the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries last week as 17 employees received layoff notices, according to Commissioner John McMillan.

McMillan, who had previously warned that strong austerity measures were likely in the face of the state's budget cuts, said more layoffs will come this week and a third round soon after. "Since coming into this office in January, we have been candid and open with employees that the Department of Agriculture & Industries is in poor fiscal health," McMillan said after meeting personally with laid-off employees. "We live in extraordinary times when government at all levels is low on funding. Our situation is no different."

With 15 percent proration, McMillan said the department's share of the general fund means an immediate cut of $2.3 million, with another $4.7 million cut likely for the 2012 fiscal year.

"It's deeply troubling, but we have had no other choice but to reduce staff," McMillan said, adding that laid-off employees will be on the department payroll through April.

"We further anticipate passage of furlough legislation that will enable us to minimize the number of layoffs in 2012 while meeting our budget obligations," McMillan added.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries is responsible for protecting the safety of the state's food supply and is the regulatory agency for the state's $5 billion agriculture and agribusinesses industries.

Shelby Speaks To Members

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, right, addresses members of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Federation President Jerry Newby, left, during a luncheon at the Hart Senate Building in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama also spoke to members. The farm policy, the national debt and military strength were among the topics discussed.

Socks in the Senate

Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, (front right), chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee, presented committee members a pair of wool socks spun from Alabama sheep at its March 23 meeting. Whatley is opening each committee meeting by giving members a gift that represents a specific commodity produced in the state. Shown with Whatley are, from left, Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Scottsboro; Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman and Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill.

Caribbean Cuisine

The Alabama Meat Goat & Sheep Producers served a Caribbean-style dish prepared with goat meat at the Alabama Agribusiness Council's Rodeo Roundup at the Southeastern Livestock Exposition Rodeo in Montgomery recently. State Meat Goat & Sheep Committee Chairman Sam Abney of Autauga County and his wife, Mary Lou, served the attendees.

Temple Grandin to lecture at Auburn University

Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has drawn from her experiences as a person with autism to become one of the world's leading designers of humane livestock-handling facilities, will speak in Auburn, March 31, as the spring 2011 E.T. York Distinguished Lecturer.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Auburn University Student Center ballroom. Grandin's revolutionary designs of livestock-handling equipment and facilities for meat-processing plants as well as ranches and feedlots reflect her expertise in animal behavior and her advocacy for humane livestock management, as each is developed to reduce fear and stress in cattle and other livestock through every phase of their lives.

Today, half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled using a restrainer system she designed for meat processors.

The E.T. York Distinguished Lecturer Series was established in the Auburn University College of Agriculture in 1981 with an endowment by E.T. York Jr. and his wife, Vam Cardwell York, both native Alabamians and Auburn graduates. The series features internationally known scientists speaking on a wide range of topics at public and technical lectures and seminars on the Auburn campus.

For information on the lecture, contact Deborah Solie at 334-844-8900 or das0002@auburn.edu.

David Sessions wins GOP nomination in special election

David Sessions of Grand Bay won Tuesday's special election in a three-person race for the Republican nomination for House District 105. He received more than 60 percent of the vote for the south Mobile County District.

Sessions will face Constitution Party candidate Bill Atkinson in a May 10 general election.

The winner will replace Spencer Collier, who resigned from the Legislature to become Alabama's homeland security director. Sessions was supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation. He and his brother, Art, operate a diversified farm in Mobile County.

Federal court suit targets Alabama's property tax laws

A Federal Court trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Huntsville claims that Alabama's property tax laws discriminate against blacks and poor whites.

The suit, Lynch et. al. vs. Alabama, was filed on behalf of families of black schoolchildren in Lawrence and Sumter counties and families of white schoolchildren in Lawrence County. The plaintiffs range in age from preschool to high school.

Plaintiffs in the case claim that racial discrimination was the motive behind legislation aimed at modifying property taxes in the state more than 100 years ago and as recent as 1978. The suit claims that Alabama's current use and classification tax system taxes land well below its value and as a result harms state education funding.

The suit seeks to have the state's tax laws rewritten by the Alabama Legislature and if the Legislature fails to do that, then asks that the federal court establish the tax rate. The trial is expected to last four or five weeks.

Agriculture Literacy

A barn bookcase built by the Good Hope Agriscience Department and sponsored by the Cullman County Women's Leadership Committee and books about agriculture sponsored by Cullman County Board members will rotate throughout Cullman County schools to help promote agriculture literacy and awareness with students and teachers. From left are Cullman County Farmers Federation Board Member and Good Hope High School agriscience teacher David Bice, County Women's Leadership Committee Chairman Nancy Garrison, County Women's Leadership Committee Member Pat Hicks and County Federation President Kenneth Neal.

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