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May 02, 2007   Email to Friend 

ALABAMA FARMERS TESTIFY ON BEHALF OF FAMILY FARM PRESERVATION ACT
Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
May 02, 2007

Limestone County farmer Stuart Sanderson testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the Family Farm Preservation Act.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Farmers from across Alabama offered impassioned testimony about how increasing lawsuits and regulations threaten their livelihoods during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the Family Farm Preservation Act, SB 285, May 2 in Montgomery.

More than 100 people, mostly farmers, were on hand for the hearing, which was called at the request of environmental groups. Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, who is sponsoring the bill, opened the hearing by revealing she grew up on a poultry farm and is committed to preserving that way of life.

"There once was a time when a farmer could be assured that he could raise his crops and livestock in relative freedom from problems other than the weather, which he cannot control. Today, he is faced with many things," she said. "Farms are dwindling. It's getting harder and harder to make a living farming, and there are fewer young people going into agribusiness."

Benefield pointed out that global competition and other challenges have forced farms to become larger. As a result, she said the state must "find a balance," that allows farmers and suburban residents to coexist.

The Family Farm Preservation Act provides that farm operations may not be declared a public or private nuisance or be in violation of municipal or county ordinances if operated lawfully and under certain conditions.

Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks received a spontaneous ovation from the farmers when he talked about the misunderstanding that often sprouts along the fencerows where the city meets the country.

"I don't believe a farmer should move into a subdivision and ask the subdivision to relocate. At the same time, a subdivision shouldn't move out to the farm and ask the farmer to relocate," Sparks said.

Representatives from environmental groups and the Trial Lawyers Association repeatedly tried to characterize the Family Farm Preservation Act as a bill to protect "corporate" farms, especially those that raise hogs.

Walker County farmer Dorman Grace respectively disagreed, noting he operates his farm with no hired help.

"I have six poultry houses, and I still consider myself a small, family farmer," he said.

Grace said there once were 40 poultry houses and several cattle and hog farms along the four-mile road on which he lives. Today, he is the only farmer left.

"I didn't move to town," he said. "Town moved to me."

Coffee County farmer Max Bozeman echoed Grace's comments, noting that someone recently bought land adjacent to his farm, started building a house and then began worrying about Bozeman's cows, which had grazed in nearby pastures for 40 years.

Limestone County farmer Stuart Sanderson challenged the Senate Agriculture Committee members to rethink their definition of "family farm."

"If you are talking about preserving the family farm, then I think you have to preserve the right for the family to work on the farm. It doesn't matter about the size of the acreage, if it's 20 acres or if it's 4,000," he said.

Sanderson, who raises row crops in a rapidly developing area near Huntsville, has worked to educate his neighbors about modern agricultural practices through individual meetings, a website and visits to schools. In closing, he pledged that if the Committee would work to preserve the farming way of life, he would do his best to grow quality products to feed, clothe and provide fuel for Americans.

Prior to the hearing, the Committee agreed not to vote on SB 285. Those in attendance for the hearing included Chairman Benefield and Sens. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, vice chair; Tom Butler, D-Madison; Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; and Rusty Glover, R-Semmes.


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