TODAY'S FARM IS STILL A "FAMILY FARM"
Mike Kilgore is excutive director of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
The days of the 40-acre farm and mule are long gone. The days of the 100-acre farm and two-row tractor also are gone. Those were the family farms of Alabama in the last century. Their numbers were huge and their acreage small. This century, the number of farms is small and the acreage sometimes huge. But the farm of today still is a "family farm."
Mom, Dad, the children, and sometimes grandparents and grandchildren still live and work on Alabama farms. In fact, many of our farms support several families. It is not uncommon for three brothers to farm together, along with their children. Ten to 15 family members may depend on that farm for their livelihood. The operation is no less a family farm just because it may take 2,000 acres or more to generate enough income to support the family.
Anyone who shops knows that when you buy multiples of an item, the cost is cheaper per item. It doesn't matter if it's groceries or toilet paper. The principle is the same whether you raise a few chickens on the farm or 100,000. The larger the number, the more cost-effective to produce, and ultimately the cheaper the product at the grocery store. And the American consumer wants everything cheaper.
As farms have gotten larger, tough environmental regulations have gotten even tougher.
Regulations adopted by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in December 2000 have served as a guideline for other states. ADEM has set up strict guidelines, including zero discharge into streams, protections of groundwater, and setbacks from property lines 500 feet to one mile for larger confined animal feeding operations.
The citizens of Alabama have these and other environmental protections in effect. Now, it is the farmers who come to the Alabama legislature for their protection. We only have 47,000 farms in Alabama today, down from 59,000 ten years ago. That is losing at a rate of 100 per month.
We are urging passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act. Simply, the bill means a farm could not be declared a nuisance if it is complying with current laws, rules and regulations. Agriculture is one of the most regulated industries in America. If a farm can live up to these strict regulations, it should not be put out of business because someone doesn't appreciate the sights, sounds and smells commonly associated with agriculture.
A misconception about this bill is that it prohibits suits against a farm. A lawsuit still can be filed against a farm for any reason. However, as a deterrent against frivolous nuisance lawsuits, the bill calls for the plaintiff to pay all of farmer's attorney's fees if the lawsuit is unsuccessful. Farmers need this because even if the farmer wins, he could still lose his farm due to exorbitant legal expenses incurred defending himself and his family.
Opponents like to label this legislation as a "hog bill" to strike fear in residents that a huge hog operation may locate next to them. The new ADEM rules already prohibit that. Total hog operations in Alabama have dropped from 5500 in 1989 to 300 today. In fact, there are only 33 hog operations classified as confined animal feeding operations in Alabama. Only one has begun operation since the new rules became effective--hardly justification for opposing this legislation so desperately needed by Alabama farmers.