Senior Editor, Barbara Kieker with GrowingGeorgia Monday, 29 November 2010
With an office in 158 of the state’s 159 counties, the Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB), like the agriculture industry it represents, is a vital part of each county’s economy. Zippy Duvall, GFB president, compares Farm Bureau to a spider web that stretches to every community in the state.
“There is a GFB office within 15 to 20 minutes of any home in Georgia,” Duvall said. “Our county infrastructure is so valuable because it keeps us in touch with our members and their high-priority issues.”
Founded in 1937 by farmers, the GFB is the largest voluntary agricultural organization in the state. Its purpose is to serve as the voice of farmers on local, regional, state and national issues.
• Issues for Georgia farmers
Duvall, GFB officers and directors, staff, and volunteers are focused on representing farmers on the high-priority issues impacting their operations. Some of the many issues the organization has addressed this year include:
• Water use and availability
The GFB has been very active in working with the state legislature and Governor Perdue on the state water plan. Recently, Duvall and others in the GFB accompanied Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Allen Barnes on a two-day tour of farms in southwest Georgia.
“I think he was surprised at how far ahead of the game farmers are in terms of water conservation and I was encouraged to hear him say that a public benefit should not come at a private cost,” Duvall said.
• Technology fees charged by seed companies
According to Duvall, Georgia farmers pay the highest technology fees in the U.S. for the same cotton and soybean seed that is sold to farmers across the country. The GFB has been working with the seed companies and state officials to curb technology fees.
“We support the technology but we want to bring some common sense to the fees,” Duvall explained.
According to Duvall, the seed companies have brought something to the table by offering to assign a new weed specialist to the state, and enhancing the Performance Plus Program that returns a portion of the cost of controlling weeds to the farmers. While appreciating their efforts, Duvall believes technology fees, especially for cotton, remain too high.
• Food safety
Following the tomato scare in 2008 and the peanut scare in 2009, food safety has become a top issue for the U.S. ag industry. In Georgia, tomato farmers took a $14 million hit in just two months in 2008, following a false warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The GFB has been very proactive in talking with regulators and farmers about food safety.
“We support regulations that protect our food supply while not being overly burdensome to farmers,” Duvall said. “We want to be sure that farmers can make a living.”
• International trade
Duvall has been recently to Cuba, Korea and China to bring knowledge of Georgia agriculture to farmers and officials in these countries. According to Duvall, there is a huge need for beef, chicken and grain especially in Asia.
“Farmers around the world tend to want to protect their own turf. We need a good understanding so that we can open up markets and help each other,” Duvall explained.
According to Duvall, a prime example of the benefits of international trade is the pecan market where trade with China has accounted for the purchase of 30 million pounds of the pecan crop in Georgia over the past three years. Duvall said, “Exports have helped minimize the price fluctuations the pecan market has always experienced.”
• Ag research in Georgia
The state’s current financial situation has meant cutbacks for the agricultural research programs at state universities. The GFB has been advocating for continued funding for these programs.
“Our ag research keeps us on the cutting edge by developing new varieties, finding ways to keep food prices affordable and produce food safely,” Duvall explained.
Cooperative Extension is facing cutbacks as well. According to Duvall, youth programs like 4-H and the educational outreach programs Extension provides, are an investment in the future for agriculture that should not be reduced.
A member-driven organization
The GFB continues to look for ways to add value for its members. Over the past several years, the number of member benefits Farm Bureau offers has more than doubled. Its insurance, banking and brokerage services continue to grow. Other member benefits include hotel, car rental and prescription drug discounts and a free text message service that provides futures market data three times a day. Thanks to the work of its 2,000 volunteers, the GFB is out in communities every day, advocating for farmers and promoting rural development.
“Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry,” Duvall continued, “and the future of our state, especially communities in rural Georgia, depends on the success of our farmers.”
More information on the Georgia Farm Bureau is available at www.gfb.org.