Representatives discuss state agricultural issues at Farm Bureau Ag Summit

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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Local farmers and ag business leaders met at the Cloud Livestock Facility on Thursday evening, coming together for Decatur County Farm Bureau’s Ag Summit meeting to discuss the latest developments and issues facing local agriculture. The evening’s key speakers were Representative Joe Campbell, State Senator Sam Watson, and Georgia Ag Commissioner Tyler Harper.

Campbell spoke first, emphasizing the importance of the agriculture industry being represented in state government. “The message that I want to get to out today, is we need to make sure we’re at the table, so to speak,” he said. “I think we are well represented, and we have good people… I think we can feel comfortable that we’re in a good position.”

Campbell discussed several recent bills passed at the state level, including a change in truck weight variance, as well as a farm conservation act, which is aimed at incentivizing farmers to keep their land in production farming. Campbell also informed the audience of a piece of legislation that did not pass, one that was aimed at preventing farmland from being sold to foreign enemies of the United States (i.e. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc.) Campbell also briefly mentioned various pieces of legislation unrelated to agriculture, including issues pertaining to gang crackdowns and transgender issues.

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“I would say that agriculture is represented well in Atlanta,” Campbell said, emphasizing the representation of “rural values.”

Next, Senator Sam Watson spoke. He primarily spoke on legislation affecting water access and well compliance. Watson also spoke on land ownership penalties facing family farms, with penalties in place to prevent someone from owning over 2,000 acres. “The family farm is bigger now, and we need to look at that 2,000 acre number, and not penalize the farmer if he owns a lot of land,” Watson said.

Watson lastly spoke on a navigable water decision, which states that rivers that run through private property, are technically public property. “There’s a lot of questions there, this bill was not vetted properly,” he said. The most immediate concern for farmers would be for those who supply their crops with river water. “What happens if the river drops too low, and you’re pumping out the river? Can you keep pumping out of the river, or can you get in trouble? Because it’s not your water anymore, it’s the public’s water.”

Finally, Ag Commissioner Tyler Harper spoke, introducing several members of his department team also in attendance. Harper spoke about how law enforcement has focused on cleaning up criminal activity surrounding Atlanta farmer’s markets, especially cartels using produce shipments to smuggle drugs.

Harper had spent much of Thursday in east Georgia, inspecting the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. He stated that a sizable percentage of this year’s pecan crop was lost, as was any corn or tobacco crop still left in the field, along with damage to barns and property.

Another item of interest was a reported sighting of yellow-legged hornets in the Savannah area, also known as Asian hornets, a species native to Southeast Asia. They are a destructive invasive species due to their predation of honey bees. According to Harper, the sighting was investigated, with one rather large nest being found and removed.

After the three representatives finished speaking, they took questions from the audience.