Legislature sends bills to governor
The Legislature this week gave final approval to a bill affirming the state's authority to regulate fertilizer, as well as a constitutional amendment that will let voters decide whether to reauthorize Forever Wild funding for another 20 years.
SB 123, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday. It prohibits local governments from regulating the registration, packaging, labeling, sale, storage or distribution of fertilizer. The companion bill, HB 198, was sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill into law.
On Thursday, the House gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would reauthorize funding for the Forever Wild program for another 20 years. SB 369, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, would allow voters to decide the fate of the land-buying program during the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.
The Legislature also has sent a package of four tort reform bills to the governor in the last week. The bills protect Alabama retailers from product liability lawsuits aimed at manufacturers; lower the interest rate defendants pay on judgments during the appeals process; prohibit the practice of "forum shopping" in wrongful death lawsuits; and establish a framework for the admission of expert testimony.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bentley signed the Landowners Protection Act (SB 84). The new law, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, limits the liability of landowners who lease their property for hunting or fishing.
The Legislature was expected to give final consideration this week to a bill aimed at protecting Alabama honeybee colonies from pests and diseases and a bill giving the Department of Agriculture authority to approve road signs for agritourism operations.
Helping Storm Victims
|Although West Alabama suffered tornado damage of its own, several county Farmers Federations from the region raised money and prepared food for other areas in need. Farmers Federation presidents from Greene, Marengo, Pickens, Hale, Sumter, Perry, Dallas, Choctaw, Lowndes, Butler and Clarke counties met May 1 and decided donating money was the best help they could offer. Eight days later, they had raised almost $19,350. Checks were presented to United Way of West Alabama and the American Red Cross May 9. Two days later, Farmers Federation directors from Hale, Greene, Pickens and Sumter counties, along with their wives and others, prepared 500 plates of barbecue for victims in the Holt Community in Tuscaloosa County.|
Catfish farmers weigh in on USDA regulations
Two Alabama catfish producers and Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Division Director Mitt Walker gave comments at hearings last week concerning mandatory catfish inspection programs.
Walker, along with Dallas County catfish producer Butch Wilson, gave comments at the May 24 U.S. Department of Agriculture meeting in Washington, D.C. Hale County catfish farmer Townsend Kyser commented at a similar meeting May 26 in Stoneville, Miss.
"Our producers want to make sure USDA applies a broad definition of catfish that includes catfish-like species regarding rules for inspection," said Walker. "A broad definition will ensure that all catfish sold in this country is held to the absolute highest standard relative to food safety."
The responsibility for regulation of catfish is being relocated from the U.S. Department of Commerce to USDA.
Additional comments on the proposed regulations should be made before June 24. More information about the regulations is available at www.regulations.gov.
Smith joins Federation as summer intern
A new advocate for agriculture has joined the Alabama Farmers Federation's Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department as a summer intern.
Martin Smith, originally from Sarasota, Fla., is an Auburn University senior who graduates in December with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in history.
"We are excited to have Martin Smith join the Federation family this summer," said Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department. "He comes to us eager to learn more about the issues affecting Alabama's farmers, while broadening his experiences as a political science student."
Smith, who wants to be a lawyer, said he is excited to learn more about agriculture law through the internship.
"I'm interested in ag law, and working for the Alabama Farmers Federation should be a great way to develop my interests," Smith said. "I'm very happy they've given me this opportunity. It's a great group of people doing good work."
Hardin said Smith will learn more about the Federation's advocacy for its members, including participation in the legislative process.
"Even though his time here with us is brief, Martin is ready to contribute to the Alabama Farmers Federation's mission to improve opportunities for agriculture and rural Alabama," Hardin said.
At Auburn, Smith is involved with the Student Government Association and his fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.
He previously served as AGR's scholarship chair and new member chair, and he is currently serving as philanthropy chair.
In addition to his involvement at Auburn, Smith enjoys fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking and hunting.
Randolph County Farm Day
|The Randolph County Young Farmers recently hosted the sixth annual farm day in Wedowee where 400 students from five schools enjoyed seeing farm animals, equipment demonstrations and exhibits. From left are State Young Farmers Committee Member Daniel Hall, Wadley FFA students Jordan Shower and Nicole Taylor, and Randolph County Young Farmers Committee Member Melissa Noles.|
Bassetts honored with environmental stewardship award
Brothers Jimmy and Wayne Bassett, owners of Beck's Turf in Tuskegee, have been named the 2011 recipients of the Mosley Environmental Award.
|From left are: Federation Forestry and Wildlife Division Director Steve Guy; Jimmy Bassett; Wayne Bassett; Mosley Associate Professor Kathryn Flynn of Auburn University; and retired Auburn University registrar Doyle Bickers, who nominated the Bassetts for the award.|
The award is given for voluntary efforts in forestry, wildlife, fisheries, soil, water, air, wildflowers, non-game wildlife, environmental education, conservation and urban forestry.
Retired Auburn University registrar Doyle Bickers nominated the brothers for the award for their efforts to develop heirloom species of apples and pears, as well as plant species that enhance wildlife habitats, like the Chinese chestnut.
Wayne is a board member of the Lee County Farmers Federation, and Jimmy is a previous president and current board member of the Macon County Farmers Federation.
|Alabama Farmers Federation Poultry Division Director Guy Hall, left, recently presented the Outstanding Young Farm Family Poultry Division Award to Lindsey and Jeremy Brown and their daughter, Ansley. The Browns, who live in Montgomery County, received $250 and a plaque and will compete in the overall Outstanding Young Farm Family contest. The winner will be announced at the Federation's annual meeting in Mobile in December.|
Drought covers two-thirds of state, no rain in forecast
With only 33 percent of the state receiving adequate rainfall, farmers are beginning to suffer as the hot summer months approach.
Most consider the effects drought has on crops, but the livestock industry is also alarmed at the scarcity of rain.
"With average annual rainfalls below normal, our members who raise livestock are feeling the effects of drought as much as anyone," said Nathan Jaeger, director of the Farmers Federation's Beef, Equine, Hay and Forage divisions. "It is especially difficult for cattle farmers because they do not normally rely on outside assistance during hard times, and while there are some programs available that individuals utilize, they often are just a fraction of their expenses."
Webb Holmes, the Perry County Farmers Federation's beef chair and owner of the Holmestead Company, said he doesn't know if he will be able to make it through the summer months without more rain.
"We've only gotten about an inch of rain in May, and we really depend on that rain because most grass grows from April to the middle of June," Holmes said. "If we don't get anything in June, we might be in a lot of trouble. I'm really afraid that we're not going to have enough grass to get through the summer."
Holmes said if he doesn't have enough grass to get through the summer, he'll have to sell his cows or wean his calves early.
"It just depletes your stock," Holmes said. "You have to build your numbers back up sometime, and if you sell them now for less than their potential, you probably won't be able to maximize profits from those animals."
Jaeger said that although farmers may have to sell their cattle, they will still be able to stay afloat--for now.
"The only silver lining in this emerging dust cloud is that at the moment cattle prices are very high, so farmers will receive premiums for what cattle they can sell," Jaeger said. "But these high prices are directly related to drought from three years ago that forced many cattle and livestock farmers to liquidate much of their herds."
Although Holmes is anxious about the state of his operation, he said he is still hopeful enough rain will fall in June and July to get him through the summer.
"We're always optimistic," Holmes said, "or we'd be in another business."
|Ground was broken May 25 for a new administrative building at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center (TVREC) made possible by a donation from the Alabama Farmers Federation. Shown with their shovels are, from left, Jim Bannon, director, outlying units, Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station; Bill Batchelor, AAES director and Auburn University College of Agriculture dean; Jerry Newby, president, Alabama Farmers Federation; Paul Pinyan, executive director, Alabama Farmers Federation; Paul Mask, assistant director, Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources, Alabama Cooperative Extension System; and Chet Norris, TVREC director. The facility will be called the Alabama Farmers Federation Administrative Building and will provide office space and meeting rooms.|
Peanut producers vote to continue check-off program
Peanut producers in Alabama approved the continuation of a statewide peanut check-off program this week with a 96 percent favorable vote.
Nineteen polling sites in 16 counties were open for the referendum. The Alabama Peanut Producers Association administers the check-off program. Funds collected under the program are used to support research, promotion and education projects that enhance the state's $140 million peanut industry. APPA President Carl Sanders said the board appreciates the strong showing of support.
"I know the board of directors shares my appreciation," he said. "The check-off program funds many research and education activities that would not exist if not for the program. Those programs directly impact our industry on an annual basis."
Officials cease plans to expand Cahaba refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has canceled plans for a huge expansion of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge.
An overflow crowd attended a public hearing in September as part of a comment period about a proposal made to expand the refuge from 3,600 acres to 106,415 acres. The service also sought to establish an additional 173,380-acre conservation area adjacent to the refuge by purchasing conservation easements and leases.
Most of the comments submitted during the hearing objected to the expansion.
In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a six-month delay in the proposal and an extension of the comment period until Dec. 6.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said managers of the refuge instead will launch a two-to three-year study on how to manage the refuge for the next 15 years.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, was among those opposed to the expansion and threatened to block funding for all federal land purchases if the Cahaba expansion continued.
"I am pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has wisely decided to abandon its over-reaching plan to expand the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge by hundreds of thousands of acres," Shelby told the Birmingham News in a prepared statement. "I voiced to the FWS that their ill-conceived proposal was much too costly, far too intrusive, and therefore entirely unacceptable."