GUEST EDITORIAL - FAMILY FARM PRESERVATION ACT
By Mike Kilgore, Executive Director of the Alabama Farmers Federation
The 2000 census is out and farmers make up only slightly more than 1 percent of the population in America. These statistics point to the need for taking steps now to preserve and protect the family farm.
The new census further illustrates a potential problem that has finally arrived in Alabama--urban flight. Folks are moving out of the cities in record numbers. Both Birmingham and Huntsville declined in population while the suburbs around those cities were among the fastest growing in Alabama.
As folks move outside the city and into the country, they are geographically closer to agriculture, sometimes next door. Now, a farmer who may have tilled the soil on the same land for generations has a new neighbor who doesn't appreciate the noise of a tractor, the dust of a combine, or the smell of livestock.
This is just one example of why Alabama Farmers Federation and other major agricultural groups see the need to support the Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act. The bill, pending in the House, says that farmers who abide by state and federal rules and regulations have a right to farm and provide a livelihood for their families. It provides that farms operating in such a manner could not be declared a nuisance. The sponsors of the bill, Rep. Frank McDaniel and Sen. Tom Butler think that is fair and we agree.
Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bishop, who also supports the bill, says he knows of no other industry in Alabama that is more regulated than agriculture. And as a state official who is responsible for enforcing a lot of regulations, he should know. To protect consumers and the environment, The Environmental Protection Agency, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and U.S. Department of Agriculture keep a close watch on agriculture.
There are many misconceptions about this bill. It is not a zoning bill nor does it prohibit zoning in the future. It does not prohibit a person from bringing suit. The bill does, however, allow a farmer to continue his operation if there is a change in the use of property located adjacent to or in the vicinity of his or her farm. Again, it allows the farmer to continue farming if he abides by the law, rules and regulations set forth by federal and state authorities.
As urban areas expand, the problem likely will grow. The threat of a farm being declared a nuisance is increasing. Farmers are afraid of being shut down on the whim of a new neighbor's opinion that the operation is a nuisance. And with that whim, their legacy is lost; their livelihood destroyed.
The mental toll such a threat takes cannot be measured. The threat is not just immediate financial loss but the possibility of shutting down the farm and no livelihood from the farm in the future. And even if the farmer wins, he could still lose his farm due to exorbitant legal expenses incurred defending himself. That's why the Family Farm Preservation Act also says that any person or group that sues a farmer abiding by current rules and regulations for public nuisance and loses, must pay the farmer's attorney fees.
Farmers have enough problems today with weather, pests, regulations and low market prices. If we can just help diminish the threat of nuisance lawsuits, they deserve that. They deserve much more. It's the least we can do.