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August 25, 2010   Email to Friend 

Commodity Producers Conference Rediscovers Columbus
By Darryal Ray

Dr. William Batchelor says farmers must shoulder the burden of feeding, clothing and supplying energy to a growing global population.
Auburn University's new dean of its College of Agriculture stressed the role agriculture will play in the world's future during the Alabama Farmers Federation's 38th annual Commodity Producers Conference in Columbus, Ga., Aug. 5-7.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 600 at the Columbus Con-vention Center at the conference's opening night banquet, Dr. William Batchelor said agriculture's role would continue to grow as the world searches for answers to feed, clothe and power a growing population amid dwindling resources.

"This is a real interesting situation and critical time in the life of the world," said Batchelor, noting that the global population is projected to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion within the next four decades. "That's going to create all sorts of issues that your kids and my kids are going to have to deal with. The burden of solving these issues is going to fall squarely on the farmers' shoulders and agricultural researchers' shoulders around the world."

Batchelor said the population centers of Southeast Asia and parts of Africa are starting to accumulate wealth. "So you start seeing people all over the world competing head-to-head with us for energy, for gaso-line -- and you've seen that very directly in your farm operations in the price of diesel fuel -- and they also want food," said Batchelor. "This is where your industry comes into play. The kind of issues, the grand challenges facing society for the next 30 or 40 years, is going to be food and fiber production. Farmers are going to be right slap in the middle.

"Fuel is a limited resource," he added. "You can debate about how limited it is, but there is going to be a tremendous opportunity in the agricultural sector for renewable energy. ... You're going to become energy producers -- that will become one of the crops that you'll grow."

The opening night banquet also featured remarks from Chip Blalock, director of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., recognition of Ginger Mullins, Federation administrative assistant for agricultural programs, on her 23rd straight Commodity Producers Conference and entertainment by Barney Fife look-alike and comedian Rik Roberts.

Batchelor, who came to AU from Mississippi State and assumed the deanship along with the directorate of the Alabama Experiment Station in mid-July, told the attendees he was looking forward to a long working relationship with the Federation.

He got that opportunity again the very next day when he met one-on-one with many members on the conference's Orange and Blue tours, which visited such sites in Auburn as the Agricultural Research Service's National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, AU's Teaching Garden, College of Veterinary Medicine and the Southeastern Raptor Center.

"This was one of our most successful conferences ever," said Jimmy Carlisle, director of the Federation's Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs. "There was just so much for our members to see, do and learn. They got to meet the new dean twice, they got to see the AU eagles fly down for the first time in a public setting this season and visit the football team's locker room. It was good, quality tours and seminars. We're already excited about next year's event in Huntsville.

"It was the Federation's first conference in Columbus since 2005, and also included a tour to Callaway Gardens, a 13,000-acre resort in Pine Mountain, Ga., where members toured the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center, the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center and Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden.

"It was great to see how Callaway Gardens managed labor, energy and water costs relative to plant production," said Mac Higginbotham, director of the Federation's Horticulture and Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod Divisions. "Its greenhouse facility faces many of the same challenges as our producers. It was an excellent opportunity to compare management practices.

"The Green Tour took in the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation Pre-serve, which includes 11,000 acres in a pristine forest setting with old house sites, hardwood creek bot-toms and more.

The tour also made a stop at the Callaway Steeplechase grounds.The Yellow Tour ventured into Meriwether, Pike, Upson and Lamar counties as it visited Quercas Cattle Company (www.QuercasCattle.com) in Gay, Ga.; Kensington Cattle Company (http://lemmonangus.com/) in Molena, Ga.; and The Rock Ranch (www.therockranch.com), a large Brangus cattle opera-tion that doubles as an agri-tourism destination. Owned by Chick-'fil-A founder Truett Cathy, The Rock Ranch offers such fun-filled activities as pumpkin and corn cannons, pony, train, hay and balloon rides, pedal carts, a family dodge ball arena, a play village for kids and underground slides. The ranch also features a new air-conditioned event center where it holds weddings and corporate events right next to Cathy's personal collection of tractors, vehicles, carriages and even a tank.

Saturday morning featured several seminars, including a look at Alabama's Farm Land Preservation program by Steve Musser of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Angela Hurst of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Hurst told farmers how they could enroll qualifying land to ensure that it remains in farmland for generations to come.

Hurst explained the advantages and disadvantages of the program as well as guidelines for enrolling the property -- 90 percent open land that contains "state-important" soil types.

"To date, we've purchased 19 easements, protecting around 3,200 acres of farmland from commercial development," said Hurst. "We've already selected easements for 2009 and 2010. We are going to make our 2011 selections at the beginning of the year. And right now, we have $230,000 that's available for pur-chasing qualifying easements."

Dr. Kay Smith Johnson of the Animal Agriculture Alliance told attendees that farmers must "speak out" by whatever means available to counter attacks from animal rights activists whose goal is to ban animal agriculture entirely.

Dr. Anne Mims Adrian, an Extension specialist in computer technology, led a seminar on social media's potential for agriculture. "We now have the ability to talk more freely and with more people than ever before," said Adrian. "One of the reasons for this is the Inter-net; another is all these hand-held devices."

Adrian said research shows that farmers utilize the Internet in much the same way as the general population: 47 percent spend at least five hours per week online; 62 percent have sent or received text messages during the last year; and 85 percent indicated they have visited web sites. In addition, producers earned credit for attending workshops on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and were given advice on combating feral hogs and controlling weeds in pastures and hayfields.

Bob Redding of the Redding Firm updated members on cur-rent national legislative issues, and John Pudner, director of the Federation's External Affairs Department, gave members a look at upcoming November general elections.

A Saturday afternoon session on "Rules of the Road" featured speakers from the Alabama Department of Transportation, the Alabama Department of Revenue and the Alabama Department of Public Safety, and gave attendees an overview of regulations regarding license plates; vehicle weights and lengths; and roads and bridges.

"The question-and-answer session that followed the speakers' presentations was very valuable," said Buddy Adamson, director of the Federation's Wheat & Feed Grains, Cotton and Honey & Bee Divisions.

Prior to Saturday night's closing banquet, a reception for Federation-endorsed candidates drew state legislators Richard Laird of Randolph County, DuWayne Bridges of Chambers County, Billy Beasley of Barbour County and Pebblin Warren of Macon County. Also attending were State Auditor Sam Shaw and husband Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw, Treasurer Kay Ivey (a candidate for lieutenant governor), state treasurer candidate Young Boozer, agriculture commissioner candidate John McMillan, Judge Tommy Bryan of the Court of Civil Appeals and state board of education candidate Betty Peters.

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