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April 16, 2003   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
April 16, 2003

Doyle Phillips, a poultry and beef farmer from Clay County, was among the farmers who testified before the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee.
MONTGOMERY, -- Ala., More than 300 farmers from throughout Alabama filled the hearing room and hallways of the Alabama Statehouse Wednesday afternoon as members of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee heard testimony on the Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act.

Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman, is the sponsor of HB 420. As the hearing began, he urged members of the committee to keep in mind that the Family Farm Preservation Act is designed "to help protect family farmers who are trying to make sure we have food to eat."

"In talking to people in my area, my worst fear is that we will get to a point in our country where we depend on other countries to provide our food," he said.

Doyle Phillips, president of the Clay County Farmers Federation, was among the farmers who testified Wednesday afternoon. He said he and his son operate a poultry and cattle operation where his son is a fifth-generation farmer.

"But without legislation like the Family Farm Preservation Act, he will probably be the last generation," Phillips said. "Even though we put forth every effort to be good stewards on our farm, we still live in and operate our farm in constant fear of nuisance complaints and lawsuits. Without the Family Farm Preservation Act, the Alabama family farm is in jeopardy. We have the safest, most-reliable food source in the world, and we don't need to take a chance on loosing that."

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said the Family Farm Preservation Act is important to farmers who are in business now and to the future of agriculture in the state.

"With a farmer's limited resources, he could be litigated out of business without ever losing a case," Newby said.

Billy Hixon, a poultry farmer from Pike County, said he's experienced the threat of frivolous lawsuits first hand.

"After spreading litter one day on our farm-- where I had done everything just as I was supposed to -- I received a letter from a lawyer who said his client had suffered health problems after inhaling some of the 'noxious' fumes from the fertilizer I was spreading," Hixon told committee members. "The lawyer wanted to know if my insurance would pay her medical bills."

Hixon said the claim was denied and never went to court, but added that threats such as those certainly don't encourage farmers to stay in business.

Jeannie Bragg Harvey, chairman of the State Young Farmers Committee, operates a family farm in Madison County with her brother and her parents. She said urban sprawl has brought more residents to the county who aren't familiar with farm life.

"Urban sprawl has been our constant companion for a decade," she said. "We welcome our new neighbors, but every day when the phone rings, we know it might be one of them with a concern. And we certainly want to discuss those concerns with them, but when those concerns go unresolved, they lead to these nuisance lawsuits. The Family Farm Preservation Act will protect us. These lawsuits threaten our livelihoods by what I call 'court costing' us out of business."

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, serves as chairman of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Following Wednesday's testimony, he postponed a vote on the Family Farm Preservation Act until the next committee hearing on April 23. In the mean time, he appointed a subcommittee to study the bill and make a recommendation to the full committee. Jackson said the committee will vote on the bill April 23.

To learn more about the Family Farm Preservation Act or to write your legislator about this bill, visit the Capitol Connection on the Alfa Farmers' website at www.alfafarmers.org

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