Credit: Jill Nolin / Georgia Recorder
Georgia hemp farming, health of state farms on menu heading into next session
PERRY — After years of lobbying by the agricultural industry, state lawmakers this year passed a controversial measure meant to help keep farmers out of the courtroom.
So, what’s next for ag-minded policy movers and shakers under the Gold Dome?
With the legislative session still five months away — and a major election standing in the way — legislative priorities are in a state of flux. But at this point, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for another hard-fought legislative battle so soon after lawmakers passed the so-called “freedom to farm bill”, which made it harder for neighbors to file a nuisance claim against a nearby agricultural producer.
State Sen. Larry Walker, a Perry Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said taking another look at whether hemp can be a viable crop in Georgia is one of the items on his agenda. Hemp production here started in 2020.
“What do we need to do from a regulatory framework around that to allow it to be viable?” Walker said. “Currently, it’s not viable, and pretty onerous regulation is part of the barrier to entry there.”
State Rep. Robert Dickey, a Musella Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, said he intends to look at ways to upgrade the state-owned farmer’s market near Atlanta, which he said is a big hub for produce in the Southeast.
“One of my initiatives will be to really put some more investment in that Atlanta terminal,” he said.
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers who serve on agricultural committees in the House and Senate met Tuesday at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, which drew hundreds of lobbyists, ag industry leaders and producers from across the state.
Outgoing Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate this year, left the group in Perry with some parting thoughts after a recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza at a sanctuary in Henry County, where about 100 birds were euthanized. It was the second outbreak of avian flu this year in Georgia.
Black said dozens of state workers have been part of the response effort, which will likely cost about $100,000. State lawmakers should consider setting aside dedicated response funds and salary enhancements for the personnel who respond to these grueling situations, he said.
Black said there is an iceberg up ahead and it is this question: Who is going to run this government five or 10 years from now? Not politically, he said, but who will be drawn to the state agency tasked with regulating and bolstering the state’s prized top industry.
“That is an enormous challenge that we all face together,” said Black, who received a standing ovation from the group when he stood up to speak Tuesday.
Much of what ails Georgia farmers, though, has more to do with global forces that are driving up prices for things like fertilizer or hindering their ability to compete with crops like fruits and vegetables.
“Our ag economy is struggling,” Dickey told the people gathered at the fairgrounds. “There’s a lot of challenges that we face each and every day.”
Walker said he believes the sight of empty shelves in grocery stores during the pandemic highlighted the importance of the state’s ag producers.
“I think we’ve got to wake up and recognize that supporting Georgia Grown is in our best interest and supporting American-grown is in our national security interest,” Walker said. “And we’ve got to make a priority of producing safe food in this country ourselves and not relying on foreign countries because it’s a national security issue. We may end up having to pay a little bit more for food, but we’ll be better off in the long run.”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.