Extension of 2008 farm bill included in last-minute fiscal cliff agreements
Farmers will continue to operate under the 2008 farm bill until Sept. 30. The extension was part of a last-minute package deal approved Jan. 1 by Congress to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Despite an increase in social security taxes, among others, the package included changes in estate tax laws, which should help more farm families keep their land.
|Dairy farmers across the country were among other commodity groups that expressed disappointment in the days following the fiscal cliff vote. Despite years of work drafting a revised dairy plan that would stabilize milk prices and help offset rising input costs, farmers like Morgan County dairyman Mickey Childers, above, will now seek a new dairy program as the farm bill debate resumes in the 113th Congress.|
Congress failed to enact a new five-year farm bill that was discussed for more than a year. The vote also permanently set the threshold for exemption rates of estate taxes at $5 million. Without extending the farm bill, farm policy would have reverted to the “permanent law” written in the 1930s and 1940s.
“While a last-minute extension of farm policy may have been the only option at this time, it should never have come down to this,” said Alabama Farmers Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker. “The full Senate passed a bill, and the House Committee on Agriculture approved its version of a bill, which was never considered by the full House. Both proposed a five-year plan to give farmers some certainty from one crop year to the next. Unfortunately, farmers will have to wait another year for a long-term farm bill.”
The majority of the farm bill spending— nearly 80 percent — goes to government-funded nutrition programs. With the extension approved, farm program payments to crop farmers are the same this year, and current policies for milk pricing remain in place. Funds have run out for a number of programs included in the bill such as disaster assistance and biofuel development.
The extended farm bill was included in a collaboration of bills between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Dairymen across the country expressed disappointment because the bill dropped a revised dairy plan, which had been agreed to by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. The dairy plan had been part of both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill.
“Dairy producers worked for a number of years to design a plan to address their unique needs by stabilizing milk prices and supplies and to help them deal with rising input costs,” Walker said. “The final extension package did not contain this new program. The bill also neglected to provide mandatory funding for a number of livestock and tree disaster programs.”
Walker said changes to estate tax laws are a positive development for farmers. The exemption for estate taxes remains at $5 million, but the tax rate for estates exceeding that amount will increase from 35 percent to 40 percent. Without action, the exemption level would have fallen to $1 million and the tax rate would have increased to 55 percent.
“Even though the tax rate does rise slightly, maintaining the exemption level at $5 million will keep more farmers from facing this terribly unjust tax,” Walker said. “The Alabama Farmers Federation continues to support the total elimination of estate taxes, but this could be viewed as a win in the bill.”
In the agreement, automatic-spending cuts put in place earlier as part of raising the debt ceiling, also known as sequestration, were delayed for two months. The “fiscal cliff” bill maintains tax rates for most Americans, but increases taxes for individuals making more than $400,000 annually or for couples making more than $450,000 a year. Capital gains taxes on that same income bracket will increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. Meanwhile, payroll tax cuts will expire, and unemployment benefits will be extended for nearly 2 million Americans.
The “fiscal cliff” bill passed the Senate with an 89-to-8 vote early New Year’s Day and passed the House in a 257-to-167 vote that evening. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., voted against the measure, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., voted for it. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., was the only “yes” vote from Alabama’s delegation in the House.
President Barack Obama signed the bill into law via autopen Jan. 2.
Tuscaloosa Finds Success With Green Membership Promotion
|Winners of Tuscaloosa County’s CSR Green Membership Promotion were honored during a ceremony at the county Federation office in Northport Dec. 20. To qualify for the cash prizes, CSRs sold a minimum of 10 memberships between Oct. 15 and Dec. 18. Grand-prize winner Deb Furney of Tuscaloosa, second from right, won $1,500. Meanwhile, first-place winner Janice Higginbotham of Northport and second-place winner Joan Campbell of Tuscaloosa each received $1,000; and third-place winner Deanna Hardin received $500. From left are Higginbotham; Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation President Joe Anders, Campbell; Furney and Hardin.|
Annual Small Ruminant Workshop set for Feb. 2
Goat and sheep producers across Alabama are encouraged to attend a free Small Ruminant Workshop hosted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Rainsville, Feb. 2.
Held at the Northeast Alabama Community College Workforce Development Building, the workshop will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Workshop participants will receive information on healthcare, gastrointestinal parasite identification, feed, forages, pasture management, genetics, marketing and funding opportunities for small ruminant production.
Pre-registration is encouraged for the event. To register, contact Dr. Maria Leite-Browning at (256) 372-4954 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit aces.edu/urban.
Congressional committee appointments good for farmers
Alabama farmers have a new advocate for agricultural funding with the appointment of U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholdt, R-Ala., as chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee for the House Committee on Appropriations.
In addition to Aderholt’s appointment, Alabama farmers are well represented on the House Committee on Agriculture with the reappointment of U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R- Ala. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who previously served on the Ag Committee, will return as a senior member of the committee.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., served on the House Committee on Agriculture during the 112th Congress. She was recently named to the House Financial Services Committee; however, her other committee assignments for the 113th Congress have not been finalized. If reappointed to the Ag Committee, she would give Alabama the prestigious distinction of having three members on the committee.
Alabama Farmers Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker said committee assignments are critical to helping shape policy in Washington.
“Having members of the Alabama delegation serving on these key committees providing oversight of agricultural programs is extremely important to the farmers of our state,” Walker said. “We are pleased to have members of our delegation in positions to really influence agricultural policy in Washington.”
Aderholt said it is a privilege to serve as chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee, but noted a number of challenges are ahead.
“From the lack of a long-term farm bill and much-needed FDA oversight, to the challenges the Commodities Future Trading Board faces with the uncertainty of newly implemented laws and regulations imposed by the administration, it is clear we should have a pretty busy year,” Aderholt said.
In addition to the Alabama Congressmen serving on the Ag Committee, Walker said the state’s farmers would benefit from the move of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to the position of the highest-ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Cochran’s departure as the ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations elevated U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to become the highest-ranking Republican on this influential committee.
Christmas Day tornadoes wreak havoc across state
A record-setting 15 tornadoes touched down in Alabama Christmas Day, spawned by storms that caused one death in Butler County and a path of destruction in numerous others. As of Jan. 8, Alfa had received 526 claims.
|Alfa Agent Luke Granthum, left, discusses Christmas Day storm damage with policyholder David Jordan of Lowndes County. Jordan’s 90,000-square-foot barn received heavy damage, and other areas around his farm were also affected.|
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported structural or tree damage in about 15 Alabama counties and confirmed tornadoes touched down in Choctaw, Clarke, Crenshaw, Lowndes, Pike, Marengo, Mobile, Montgomery, Washington and Wilcox counties.
Alfa employees were on alert that day, including Agent Luke Granthum of Montgomery, who began helping customers file claims the next morning.
“I knew there was some damage to David Jordan’s farm in Lowndes County, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I got here,” Granthum said after arriving at the farm.
As the sun came up that day, Jordan saw pieces of his farm strewn into nearby pastures and along U.S. Highway 80 that runs in front of his cattle ranch — Bodock Farms. Instead of focusing on the damage done by a late afternoon storm, the 71-year-old rancher said he immediately thought of how fortunate he was.
“All this is material stuff,” he said. ”I’m thankful my family is safe, and it was a miracle we didn’t have any livestock hurt.”
Jordan ‘s claim included heavy damage to a 90,000 square-foot barn that serves as the central shipping point for cattle at Jordan’s Bodock Farms. Giant steel beams were twisted and bent, and some were completely torn out of the ground. Twisted tin from the barn’s roof and sides were strewn for hundreds of yards, wrapped around trees, stock trailers and utility poles.
NWS officials reported trees were knocked down as far north as the Tennessee Valley, and a mobile home park was hit hard near Troy in Pike County. Mobile, which also had a twister five days before Christmas, sustained damage near downtown, including Murphy High School, which was heavily damaged.
Policyholders who need to report a claim are encouraged to contact a local Alfa service center or call 1-800-964-2532. Claims can also be filed online at AlfaInsurance.com.
Auburn to host Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference Feb. 8-9
Pest management, soil conservation, irrigation systems and specialty crop production in Alabama are among issues to be discussed at the 2013 Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA) Conference in Auburn, Feb. 8-9.
Organized by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the AFVGA, the conference opens at the Ham Wilson Livestock Area at 8 a.m. Friday, with educational programs and field tours scheduled throughout the day. An optional fruit grafting workshop is scheduled that afternoon and carries an additional $50 fee.
Attendees will spend Saturday at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center, where educational sessions will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Registration received by Jan. 31 is $80 per person and includes the 2013 AFVGA membership fee and meals. Meals are not included in registration received after Jan. 31.
To register or view a detailed agenda, visit aces.edu/afvga. For more information, email AFVGA Secretary Leslie Brasher at TheBrashers1@bellsouth.net.
Clarence Stephens, longtime secretary and member of the Chambers County Farmers Federation board of directors, died Nov. 29. He was 88.
A U.S. Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, Stephens was a member of Roanoke First Baptist Church. He also was a member of the Roanoke Masonic Lodge No. 132, Alcazar and Zamora Shrine Temples, and was a founding chairman of Mt. Olive Volunteer Fire Department. In addition to farming, Stephens was a high school teacher, pilot, liaison to the Federal Aviation Agency and practicing attorney.
Survivors include his wife, Inez Croft Stephens; daughters Laura Stephens Patterson, Sue McWhorter (Larry) and Kendra Stephens (Jude Ginder); stepchildren Vicki Holloway (Victor), Phyllis Rutherford (John), and Christopher Rowe (Tracy); grandson Adam Boothe (Deborah); 16 step-grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; two step-great-grandchildren; a niece and a nephew.
Memorials may be made to the following organizations: Mt. Pisgah Cemetery Fund, 5005 County Road 62, LaFayette, AL 36862 or Men’s Bible Class, First Baptist Church, 827 Main St., Roanoke, AL 36274.
Nina Kent, a member of the Shelby County Farmers Federation board of directors, died Jan. 2. She was 92.
Kent, a dedicated volunteer for many programs in Shelby County, was the first female to receive the Alabama 4-H Alumni Award for leadership. The oldest member of First Presbyterian Church of Alabaster, she served as Sunday school director, choir member, vacation Bible school director and was one of the first females elected to serve as an elder. She was also a member of the Shelby County Cattlewomen’s Association.
Survivors include her daughter, Joy Stanford (Melvin); son Mike Kent (Rebecca); five grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; two nieces; six nephews and a host of cousins and friends.
Memorials may be made to the Doug and Nina Kent Endowment Fund at First Presbyterian Church of Alabaster, 8828 Elliotsville Lane, Alabaster, AL 35007.
Ralph Friday, a member of the Dallas County Farmers Federation board of directors, died Jan. 2. He was 85.
Friday, a longtime supporter of agriculture, was a member of First Baptist Church of Selma.
Survivors include his wife, Sara Cox Friday; children Urban Claude Friday (Kay) and Thomas Collie Friday (Dyan); siblings Fred Friday (Ann), Leo Friday (Sharon), Claude Friday (Gail), Erline Wiggins (James) and Ruth Ann Fisher; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
Memorials may be made to First Baptist Church of Selma, 325 Lauderdale St., Selma, AL 36701, or a preferred charity.