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Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686

MONTGOMERY Young farmers from across Alabama will gather in Birmingham this weekend to discuss how proposed environmental changes will effect agriculture and their livelihoods in the near future.

About 500 young farmers between 17 and 35 years old are expected to attend the annual Alabama Young Farmers Leadership Conference and Outstanding Young Farm Family Program Feb. 12-14 at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham. The Young Farmers Program is a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation and is designed to assist young farmers in their development of leadership skills and to address issues facing agriculture and those involved in farming.

During Saturday's meeting, a workshop entitled "Agriculture, The Environment and the Future" will be held at 9:30 a.m. It will include a panel discussion by some of the state's leading experts on the proposed Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulations that will come up for final consideration by the Alabama Environmental Commission Feb. 16. The proposed regulations could be implemented as early as April 1999.

Panelists include Richard Hulcher, chief of the permits and compliance unit of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management; Perry Oakes of the Natural Resource Conservation Service; and Dorman Grace, a Walker County farmer whose large poultry operation will be affected by the new regulations. Steve Guy of the Alabama Farmers Federation will moderate the discussions.

"Environmental regulations are among the many issues facing farmers today," said Billy Hixon of Pike County, chairman of the State Young Farmers Committee. "Each year at the conference, we strive to develop leadership skills and establish a support group for young farmers. An important part of that is to be well informed about the issues that affect our industry."

The Young Farmers also will be addressed by former members of their group who have gone on to have successful careers in agriculture, despite many financial challenges and natural disasters. Several inspirational speakers also are planned for the conference.

Another highlight of the weekend will be the selection of the Outstanding Young Farm Families at a banquet Saturday evening at 7:30. These families are chosen from 11 different commodity divisions, and will go on to compete for the overall title of Outstanding Young Farm Family at the Federation's annual meeting in December.

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