Ag commissioner visits Bainbridge

Published 5:42 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

Gary Black, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, was in Bainbridge Friday to give special recognition to Julian Martin, a student at Jones-Wheat Elementary School, for his prize-winning cabbage.

In an interview with The Post-Searchlight, Black touched briefly on some of the issues facing agriculture today.

He sees the major challenges to today’s farmers to be the overall regulatory climate on such things as water and resources, labor issues, oversight of use of products (chemicals, fertilizers, etc.), while remaining friendly to the environment, and on issues of trade governances.

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“They say we operate in a free market, but in reality it is very much controlled. I’m going to be busy trying to tear down some of those barriers to help farmers be more competitive,” explained Black.

Regarding the water issues, Black said the water wars continue, and he cites Georgia law that says farmers have “a right to a reasonable use” of water. He believes most farmers are very interested in implementing and continuing conservation methods and in favor of newer prescriptive applications that save on water, as well as fuels and other resources.

Asked about the role biodiesel and ethanol have on agriculture, Black replied he feels agriculture still has a role to play in renewable fuels, but is convinced it will require continued investment and research at public institutions to make that happen.

Black’s response to the news that the current Congress is considering ending farm subsidies, is that he believes it is incumbent on agriculture to demonstrate the importance of a safety-net for producers. He said the level of funding is debated every five years when the farm bill comes up for renewal.

“What the safety-net policy is in the future is worth debating,” he said, as farming is subject to many unpredictable and uncontrollable factors, all of which put farmers at high risk.

The big question of the day was about the Georgia Legislature passing House Bill 87 last week requiring the Georgia Department of Agriculture to conduct a study of the labor needs of agriculture and report it by Jan. 1, 2012.

Personally, he would like to see a state-sponsored guest worker program and revisions to the H-2A federal program for agriculture, which he described as a troubled program.

“If we could find lawmakers with the backbone to change it at the federal level, we could take giant steps toward remedying the situation,” he said.