JEKYLL ISLAND—More than 1,400 Georgia farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state met on Jekyll Island from Dec. 4-6 for the Georgia Farm Bureau’s annual convention.
The three-day convention included a trade show and commodity conferences where farmers heard updates on policy and production issues impacting Georgia’s major commodities.
During the general session on Dec. 4 convention attendees had the pleasure of hearing Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
Gov. Nathan Deal discusses trade, water, labor and budget issues.
“One of the great things Georgia has going for us is what you do every day,” Gov. Deal said. “Your industry is the largest segment of our state economy, and we thank you for the fact that you are so efficient and that you continue to make progress in the right direction. I know you’ve had difficulties, but we’re trying to do our part at the state level to make sure you can continue to remain competitive.”
Deal acknowledged the importance of international trade to agriculture and said the state is working to deepen the Savannah harbor in preparation for two years when the Panama Canal will allow passage of larger ships.
“If we are not prepared to accommodate the larger vessels that will come through the Panama Canal beginning in 2014 we will lose out on much of the commerce that is going to be taking place in trade around the world,” Deal said. “We are expecting to be prepared with our share of the project funding cost, and we’re continuing to work through the hurdles of securing the federal funds.”
Deal spoke of the drought conditions that returned to Georgia this year, and reiterated his commitment to dedicate $300 million over the four-year period of his term to build regional reservoirs to lessen the state’s dependence on federally controlled reservoirs.
“Water is an issue that will continue to be a concern for all of us. We’re in this boat together. In my opinion the state of Georgia has been too dependent on federally controlled reservoirs for its water supply. We need to have more reservoirs and other water sources that are controlled by local jurisdictions,” Deal said.
Deal told the farmers he recognizes agriculture is a labor-intensive business and that all of agriculture’s labor needs cannot be solved using machinery.
“Your need for a legal, available work force is the concern that has been shared with me, and I will certainly keep that in mind,” Deal said.
He said immigration legislation the General Assembly passed this year mandated a study, which should provide data to help address the labor issues agriculture faces. The Georgia Department of Agriculture is in the process of compiling the report and will submit it to Gov. Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston by Jan. 1.
“We want to know what reform is needed and what can be done at the state level. I think it is important that the state of Georgia leads the way in providing statistical data so that good decisions can be made based on that data,” Deal said. “Unless you know the problem you’re trying to solve it is very difficult to get people to solve it. This report will be the first step in providing information to Congress to get them to reform the guest worker program so that it is fair and affordable for farmers.”
In closing, Deal voiced his commitment to being fiscally responsible and rebuilding the state’s financial reserves.
“I have asked all state agencies to submit their budgets based on two percent below what was appropriated for their use this past year,” Deal said. “Even if our revenues continue to climb as they have this past year, my goal is to make sure we restore the rainy day fund. We cannot continue to be a state that exhausts all of our reserves. We need to build a sufficient reserve so that when truly unexpected times come we will have the ability to fall back on that rainy day fund.”
While delivering his annual address to Georgia Farm Bureau members, GFB President Zippy Duvall described the organization as a family whose members find common ground and pull together to support a position that is best for agriculture overall.
“Our grassroots members came together this fall during our policy development process to decide what policy positions will best serve all farmers and rural communities across the state,” Duvall said. “During our convention we will adopt the policy developed by our members, putting us all on common ground and giving us a playbook from which we will work in the year to come.”
Duvall voiced agriculture’s need for farm workers saying, “Skilled farm labor is a necessity, just like land, water and equipment. Without timely access to a stable work force, large segments of agriculture will grind to a halt. Farmers must have a stable work force, and we must have meaningful immigration reform.”