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May 03, 2010   Email to Friend 

Family Farm Preservation Act Wins Final Passage
By Jeff Helms

Representative Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, center, visits with Shelby County Farmers Federation President Joel Bearden, left, and Shelby County farmer Jimmy Bice, right, following House passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act.
Alabama farmers may rest easier following the April 1 passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act in the House of Representatives.

The long-awaited legislation would prevent law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance. SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, passed the House by a 98-1 vote and will now go to the governor for his signature.

"This is one of the best things this Legislature could have done this session," said Benefield. "For our farmers, this will hopefully give them peace of mind when they go to bed at night. Maybe now they will only have to worry about the weather -- things only God can control."

About 20 Alabama farmers, as well as representatives from a coalition of farm organizations, filled the House gallery to watch the vote.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said the legislation is needed because of increasing challenges to the right to farm by people who don't understand production agriculture.

"As development spreads farther into the rural areas of Alabama, this legislation has become more important," Newby said. "Often newcomers don't understand modern agricultural practices and seek legal action to stop farmers from earning a living. Despite farmers' efforts to be good neighbors, they can find themselves spending a fortune in legal fees to defend their way of life." Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, presented the Family Farm Preservation Act to the House.

"This has been a long time coming," said Ward. "Farmers in this state deserve to be able to work and operate without fear of being sued out of business."

On the House floor, Ward stressed that the legislation does not protect those who break the rules, nor does it infringe on anyone's right to file a lawsuit. It does, however, give law-abiding farmers some degree of assurance that they will not be forced out of business.

Newby credited the farmers, legislators and staff who've worked for passage of the legislation over the years for today's victory. "As always, it took all of us working together to pass this bill," Newby said. "We appreciate all the farmers who've talked to their legislators and given testimony on behalf of the Family Farm Preservation Act. We also want to especially thank Senator Benefield for getting this bill through the Senate for the first time in 10 years and Representative Ward for his guidance today."

Former Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson worked on the Family Farm Preservation Act for several years before retiring in 2007. He called today's passage of the legislation "historic."

"It's a great day for the Alabama farm community, equal to when the lid bill and current use were passed in the 1970s," Patterson said. "I'm proud to have been associated with the farm community all those years and excited about passage of this bill. More importantly, I'm happy for the farmers of this state."

The bill was amended in Senate committee to exclude new and expanding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that raise pork. Opponents of the bill have argued that its passage would promote the expansion of large-scale livestock operations. However, there has not been a new swine CAFO built in Alabama since strengthened CAFO rules were adopted in 1999.

In addition to providing added peace of mind for farmers who follow the rules, the bill gives the judge discretion to require the plaintiff to pay the farmer's legal fees if the lawsuit is deemed frivolous, as outlined in the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act.



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