Roby hears farmers' concerns
Irrigation, payments and regulations seemed to be the chief concerns of local farmers who met with their congressional representative on Thursday.
Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, sat down with Wiregrass farmers Thursday to hear their concerns about the planned 2012 farm bill, a revamp of how the federal government supports and regulates agriculture. Roby heard from a panel of agriculture experts, as well as local farmers, during the event.
Myron Thomas, a Henry County farmer, told Roby that droughts like the one this year emphasize the need for a government program to assist farmers in building reservoir ponds and irrigation systems.
Thomas also said much of the current regulatory structure boxes farmers into doing things to suit insurers and government regulators rather than practicing good farming.
"To be honest, I'm more worried about what the government can do to me than what they can do for me," he said.
Dale Outlaw, vice president of First South Farm Credit in Ozark, said having a stable and dependable financial structure for farmers is important, as they rely on having loans and insurance they can depend upon for their capital and other needs.
Stanley Fletcher, a University of Georgia agriculture expert, said high commodity prices have helped farmers out some, but high costs are also taking a toll on farmers' profits. Fletcher said about 38 percent of farmers in the region have difficulty obtaining loans. Fletcher also said much of the way farm finance is currently set up is not helpful to farmers in the South.
Dale Armstrong, a Henry County farmer, summed up farmers' fears about the new bill in an interview Thursday.
Armstrong said many farmers feel that the budget crisis in Washington will result in fewer subsidies for farmers, who rely upon government assistance to stay competitive with farmers from countries with cheaper labor and more government support. Armstrong said many farmers would like to see more support for irrigation programs to help counter the impact of droughts.
Roby said meetings like Thursday's event at The Gathering Place in Headland gave her an opportunity to listen to local farmers’ concerns and be a more effective advocate for them in Washington.
"It's like going to class," Roby told the farmers at the event. "I brought my pencil and my paper and I'm here to learn from you."
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