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April 16, 2003   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
April 16, 2003

Dallas County cotton farmer Jay Minter, third from left, discusses underground drip irrigation with congressional aides during a tour April 14. Shown here are, from left, Dwayne Bolton, Barron Avery, Juliet Hettinger, Minter, Allan Freyer, Reece Langley, Ryan Welch and Tiffany Cobb.
MONTGOMERY, Ala.-- Legislative aides to Alabama's congressional delegation got a firsthand look at the challenges facing agriculture this week during the Alabama Farmers Federation's Congressional Staff Tour.

Aides to Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions as well as assistants to six of the state's seven congressman participated in the tour April 12-15. Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray said the tour is important because these staff members are often involved in researching and drafting legislation that affects Alabama farmers.

"As the state's largest farm organization, we feel it's important for us to inform our congressional delegation about agricultural issues and to showcase our efforts to help farmers," Gray said. "This trip also gave these staffers a chance to meet real farmers--instead of just showing them statistics about Alabama agriculture."

Participating in the tour were: Barron Avery of Sen. Sessions' office, Ryan Welch of Sen. Shelby's office, Michael Galloway of Rep. Jo Bonner's office, Reece Langley of Rep. Terry Everett's office, Dwayne Bolton of Rep. Mike Rogers' office, Juliet Hettinger of Rep. Bud Cramer's office, Tiffany Cobb of Rep. Spencer Bachus' office and Allan Freyer of Rep. Artur Davis' office. Bonner, Everett and Rogers all serve on the House Agriculture Committee.

Andy Tipton, manager of Cedar Creek Farm in Dallas County, said he wanted the congressional staffers to see what farmers are doing to protect the environment and how they are changing their operations in order to remain profitable. In 1995, Cedar Creek Farm was primarily a hog operation but economic factors forced the owners to diversify into cattle and quail.

"You hear a lot about farm subsidies these days, and most of it's bad. I want these staffers to see our efforts to make money on our own," Tipton said. "Most farmers don't want to depend on the government for help."

Barron Avery, a legislative assistant to Sen. Sessions, grew up in Marion, Ala., and hunted near Cedar Creek Farm. He said it was good to be back in Alabama and see how agriculture is changing.

"We saw a precision forestry operation that was very interesting, and we've seen a lot of things that we had only heard about in Washington," Avery said. "It helps when you can put a face on agriculture; it gives you a better idea of what's going on out here."

Dwayne Bolton of Rep. Mike Rogers office said the congressman encouraged him to participate in the tour.

"(Congressman Rogers') appointment to the House Agriculture Committee shows his commitment to agriculture---especially being a non-farmer. He wants us to be as aggressive as we can in agriculture," Bolton said.

Bolton, who is originally from Connecticut, said the tour helped him better understand what agriculture means to Alabama.

"It is one thing to hear about or read about agricultural issues; it's another to put real-life application to it," Bolton added.

Following their stop at Tipton's operation, the group visited Jay Minter's Dallas County cotton farm. Minter, who last year closed his cotton gin, told them that cotton acreage in Dallas County has dropped sharply in recent years. He said prices must improve for farmers to stay in business.

"It's a real struggle, and we need all the help we can get," Minter said. "This tour is important because it gives us a chance to educate these staffers, so when we call on them, they will know what we are asking for."

During the tour, the congressional aides visited greenhouse operations, fisheries, farmer-owned hunting preserves, agricultural research stations as well as traditional row crop and livestock operations.

Allan Freyer of Congressman Artur Davis' office said the tour was very beneficial.

"It is exciting to see firsthand the conditions farmers are facing---the different crops they are growing and the vast multitude of activities related to agriculture," Freyer said. "It is important for us to relate what's on the ground to the legislative process. We can now take this information back to Washington and work to make it easier for them to farm and take care of their families."

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