Volume 27, No. 11   Published by the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.   March 23, 2018
And then there were 2…as in legislative days remaining in this 40-day session. Lawmakers are at the State Capitol today as they grind away a string of bills before heading home for a quick refresh. The week was filled with crunch-time committee meetings as the sand is quickly passing. There was substantial progress on key bills of interest, but the stack of bills sitting in wait for a floor vote continues to grow. 

Lawmakers will return on Monday for meetings and then Tuesday signals Day 39 with the final marathon day 40, also known as “Sine Die,” set for Thursday. Please contact us if you have any questions. 
Thank you to those that have donated to our Georgia AgPAC as we work to support elected officials that are friends of our industry. We welcome all company or personal contributions. Please call our office at 706-336-6830 or click here to download the donation form to be a partner in this effort.  We are stronger together. Thank you.
We’ve hit some highlights below, but it’s important to note that several key bills are on the calendar for votes today. These include the ag irrigation metering legislation in the House, as well as the FY 2019 Budget and the Forest Land Protection Act revision in the Senate.
Many thanks to those that weighed in with Senators over the weekend to help encourage support for HB 876 by Rep. John Corbett (Lake Park) . Our battle with a handful of cities that banned wood from construction projects of more than three-stories played out in the Senate chamber on Monday. Following intense lobbying efforts of Georgia Forestry Association , GAC, and the Georgia Farm Bureau , the good guys won 40-14. GAC had this letter placed on the desks of senators prior to the vote . This bill now heads to Governor Deal and would keep wood products on a level playing field with other building materials.
We tip our hat to the leadership of Senate Ag Committee Chairman John Wilkinson (Toccoa) as he carried the bill through the Senate. He reminded fellow senators , “The Ark was built of wood and the Titanic was built of steel…which one fared better?” Three amendments were soundly defeated, and the final vote consisted of a great collection of forest industry fans. If signed by Governor Deal, this bill will prevent local prohibitions on construction projects and builders will then be able to use any material they see fit as long as it meets the required building and safety measures set forth by the state and the State Fire Code. This was a good win and we commend the work of the Georgia Forestry Association for leading on this effort.
The GATE bill ( HB 886 ) by Rep. Sam Watson (Moultrie) made its way through the Senate on Wednesday and is now awaiting signature by Governor Deal. Sen. John Wilkinson handled it for a smooth landing a 47 – 6 vote in favor. We are grateful to the work of him and Rep. Sam Watson to coordinate with the ag industry and legislative leaders to secure these improvements to the GATE program. These changes will strengthen the integrity of the program with the creation of a three-year card that carries a $150 registration fee, additional education initiatives, and enhanced application process. This was another good win for our industry!
Click here to access our interview with Southeast AgNet as we discuss the changes to the GATE program and the pivotal role it plays in Georgia agriculture.
SB 451 , dealing with ag irrigation permitting and metering, will be on the House floor for a vote later today (Friday). It is all but certain to pass, but what happens next is key. Since it was changed from the version that passed the Senate, it must go back to the get the modification approved. This could be a simple yes vote, or it could get pushed to a conference committee. In a nutshell, this bill could (and probably should) have resulted in a much different final product, but as we have stated, we believe this bill will put Georgia ag irrigation on even firmer footing for water data collection and metering moving forward. Again, here are the three key provisions:

1. Formally moves the ag metering program from the GA Soil & Water Conservation Commission to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
2. Irrigation permits in the Flint Basin will no longer have a $250 fee and shall be automatically renewed after the 25-year term.
3. Georgia EPD will contract the reading of all irrigation meters. It also requires them to contract out irrigation metering installation, maintenance and repairs.

This one is close to complete, but no one is singing just yet. 
HB 332 and it's enabling legislation, HR 238 , creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund which would dedicate up to 50% of state sales tax collected from the sale of all outdoor and recreational equipment . Previously, the bill would use .75% of all sales and use taxes but the Senate amended it back to resemble its original intent. These funds will be used for the acquisition of land for the purposes of maintenance or restoration projects at the Department of Natural Resources public lands. The trust fund shall also make money available to aid with the costs of conservation land or conservation easements. It passed committee on Wednesday morning and is now available for a full Senate vote next week.
The State’s big budget for 2019 will take another big step today as it is set for a vote on the Senate floor this afternoon. Much of what the House included in the budget was also approved by the Senate. We have highlighted these below. Here is a link that will show you the changes. You’ll recall the $26 billion FY 2019 budget proposal is the largest state budget ever. Longtime Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill (Reidsville) stated this budget goes further to meet the needs of Georgians than any budget he has ever been a part of…and that is saying something! Chairman Hill is one of the most respected members in the Senate and his leadership on budget issues is second to none. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Senate boosted Young Farmer program funding to $225,000.
  • Senate added $175,000 for ag education facilities in Walker & Catoosa Counties.
  • Maintains $50,000 for partially funding a Young Farmer Executive Director position.
  • Maintains $223,823 for whitefly management research.
  • Maintains $402,704 for a forage specialist, peanut genomics, soil nutritionist, and a postharvest physiologist at UGA Ag Experiment Station.
  • Maintains $171,400 for a turfgrass pathologist
  • Maintains $324,000 for 6 Extension positions
  • Maintains $325,660 for forage specialist, soil nutritionist, and a postharvest physiologist at UGA Extension.
  • Maintains bonds of $17.7 million for renovations at ABAC & $19.7 million for building acquisition at Bainbridge State College
  • Maintains $2,985,000 in bond funds to purchase ag education equipment.
  • Maintains $130,000 in bonds for UGA turf program in Griffin
  • Maintains $600,000 in bonds for Athens and Tifton Vet lab repairs and equipment.
  • Maintains $900,000 for one-time funding for a Food Animal Medicine Haul-In Facility in Tifton.
  • A $162,500 decrease in funds from the House recommendation for the Dept of Ag marketing program
  • A $442,200 decrease in funds from the House recommendation for the creation of a Center for Agriculture Business Development by the Dept of Ag 
There is still work to do on the FY 2019 budget before it is final. A conference committee will soon work out final details in the coming days, but the budget looks very promising for agriculture. Stay tuned.
Bay Branch Farms Inc.
Cochran Oil Mill & Ginnery
Coley Gin & Fertilizer Co.
CSA Farms, Inc.
Curry Farm Supply Inc.
Emanuel Peanut & Grain LLC
Embry Transport Inc.
Georgia Tobacco Commission
Georgia Seed Association Inc.
Hattaway Farms Partnership
Hazel Creek Cider, Inc. / Yearwood Farms, Inc.
Israel Farm Supply Inc.
J & B Irrigation Inc.
Lyle Farms, LLC
Pineland Plantation
Pitts Insurance Agency Inc.
Shellman Carriers, LLC
Swainsboro Stockyard
Vidalia Onion Business Council
Special thanks to our 2018 Star Sponsors. We welcome having GAC member companies be a part of this initiative.
Please call our office at 706-336-6830 or   click here for details . Thank you!
It has taken a long time to get to this point, but today is the day...and you can help . Georgia forestry and owners of large timber tracts should be contacting members of the Georgia Senate to request their help HB 85 and HR 51 , which are scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor today (Friday). These two bills will provide much needed changes to the Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA) while preserving the local assistance grants to schools and counties.  A new class of property would be created, called "Timberland Property," which will be assessed by the Georgia Department of Revenue rather than the local authority. This will be a much better process of keeping accurate and uniform land valuation assessments.  Most importantly, in addition to CUVA, FLPA and direct county assessments, landowners across Georgia will have an alternative option when determining how they would like to be assessed for ad valorem tax purposes with the new class of Timberland Property. We are happy to be working with the Georgia Forestry Association on this important initiative. An email from you to your State Senator to request their support for HB 85 and HR 51 would bolster these efforts. Thank you.
SB 458 , also by Wilkinson, passed the House unanimously on Monday. This is a follow-up from a change made last year allowing farm entities (LLC's and LLP's) to be treated as an individual when entering CUVA covenants. This bill clarifies that the same provision allowing individuals 65 and older to break a covenant at a reduced penalty to apply to farm entities who have a 65+ age partner, provided this person has been enrolled in the program for a minimum of thirteen years . It will also clarify that a residential area on the CUVA property shall not require a plat or survey and it would establish a mechanism to recover attorney's fees should a court reverse a covenant breach ruling. This now goes back to the Senate for an agreement and then will move to the governor for signature.
Sen. Steve Gooch (Dahlonega) proposed the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act, SB 402 , earlier this session and it is on the House floor for a vote today. This initiative is a part of the outcomes from the study committees which were held last summer dealing with broadband expansion. It would provide for broadband services planning, deployment, and grant incentives. The Department of Transportation would be authorized to take actions to enable the rights of way of interstate highways to be used for the deployment of broadband and other communications technologies. This is a big step forward to delivering improved internet service across the state.
HB 735 by Rep. Patty Bentley (Butler) would provide needed tax credits for the short-line rail system to make repairs, thus enhancing service. There are 29 short-line railroads across the state, many of which are limited in speed and load weight due to poor track conditions and limits on the capacity of bridges in place. Improving these rail systems would benefit the state transportation system by moving more loads to rail. We also see this as an opportunity to see investment in track expansion for a variety of businesses, especially those moving grain. This bill is up for a full Senate vote today.
SR 989 and HR 1397 are resolutions from the Georgia General Assembly urging Congress to extend, or make permanent, the ag exemptions from the ELD mandates that went into effect late last year. We received good news last week as FMCSA announced an additional 90-day temporary waiver from the ELD rule for agriculture related transportation but we can't rest on our laurels. SR 989 is up for a full Senate vote today and HR 1397 will be up for a House vote on Tuesday.
SB 332 by Sen. Tyler Harper (Ocilla) would create an outdoor mentor program administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This bill would develop a program where children and teenagers will have additional opportunities to learn responsible hunting practices, gun safety, and outdoor stewardship. This bill is up for a full House vote today.
With only a final week of legislative action remaining, these issues will need some attention in short order. There is nothing unusual about late hour activity and we expect several of these issues to cross the finish line before the lights are turned out. Stay tuned...

Rural Prosperity Center HB 951 looks to maintain the legislature’s focus on rural Georgia by establishing the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation . This bill is hung up in Senate Rules.

Poultry Lab Sales Tax Exemption –  HB 723 would provide an exemption from sales tax for those non-profit organizations which, as their primary purpose, provide poultry related diagnostic and disease monitoring services . This bill is still waiting to be called in the Senate.

Animal Cruelty - SB 257 deals with better protection for farm operations from false animal cruelty and husbandry charges. This bill is waiting for a full House vote.
GAC was pleased to coordinate with a small group of ag interests to craft a survey to help collect data on forecasting the future workforce needs of Georgia agriculture and forestry. This took months of work and now we need your insight to be used by key stakeholders and academic partners to meet demands of our industry. Participants will get a first look at the results and you’ll also be entered in a drawing to win one of two Yeti coolers. Plus, the first 150 respondents will also receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
AgCareers.com is conducting this survey. All results will be held confidential with only aggregate results shared with participating organizations. Please click here to complete the short survey . Thanks in advance for your help.
This week the Georgia Department of Agriculture presented the second annual Agriculture Awareness Week. There was a themed event each day of the week designed to better communicate the important role of agriculture.
On Tuesday, the department unveiled their new 100% Georgia grown and sewn cotton t-shirt. We were proud to be with Governor Deal as he applauded the work of the department and stressed the importance of the cotton industry in our state along with the slogan “Our Dirt Grew Your Shirt” .
What makes this announcement very special is the fact that the cotton for these first batches of shirts were grown by Irvin County farmers and ginned by GAC member Osceola Cotton Company!
The University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences hosted their annual Flavor of Georgia Contest on Tuesday to showcase delicious Georgia food products, announce winners in their respective categories, as well as announce the 2018 Georgia Farmer of the Year, James Vaughn of Forsyth County! James has a 5000+ acre farm in Forsyth with nearly 400 Black Angus cattle. Congratulations to all of the winners!
UGA CAES Dean Pardue, Commissioner Black, and Governor Deal honored Georgia Farmer of the Year James Vaughn in Atlanta.
GAC member White Oak Pastures team with their signature grassfed beef & Iberian pork bacon blend at Flavor of Georgia...it was delicious!
* GAC recently hosted a luncheon at the Atlanta Produce Dealers Association to discuss our AgriHealth of Georgia healthcare program . This program managed by the Snellings Walters Insurance team of Billy Potter and Tara Byrd is proving to serve our industry very well with a new management approach and substantial savings in health insurance premiums. If your agribusiness has 40 or more employees covered by health insurance, you will want to give this program a look. Please contact us at 770-508-3032
* Tyler Johnson of Smith Farm Supply in Warrenton, Georgia has joined the Board of Trustees for GAC's AgriTrust of Georgia workers' compensation insurance program. Tyler has served as president of his company since 2007 and they carry a full line of agricultural products. Smith Farm Supply has been insured by AgriTrust of Georgia since 2011 . AgriTrust of Georgia has issued 26th dividends, totaling $7,225,000.00 paid to qualified AgriTrust participants. If you would like to learn more about how this program can serve your workers compensation insurance needs, please go to www.agritrust.biz or call 855-753-0016.
* The Spring GAC Board of Directors meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 18, at the UGA Griffin campus. We are thankful to Dr. Lew Hunnicut and his team for hosting our group at their brand new turfgrass facility.
Committee meetings, videos of past meetings, and full session debates for the House and Senate are all available online.

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Missed a week? Here is a list of previous versions of Inside Ag to catch up:

2018 Inside Agriculture

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