The Washington County Farm Bureau held an annual meeting dinner banquet March 28 for the first time in a few years.
Farm Bureau members and special guests were happy to see one another over a dinner of filet mignon, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and banana pudding for dessert served up by Chipley High Culinary.
â€œThe last time we met was right before Hurricane Michael that left our community broken in need of repair,â€ said Washington County Farm Bureau President George Fisher. â€œBut we came together as we always do, and we are now going forward to make sure that agriculture remains a vital part of our community for generations to come.â€
Fisher said agriculture is not just a way of life but the backbone of the community as farmers and ranchers ensure the population has a healthy food supply.
The business portion of the meeting consisted of approving minutes from the 2019 meeting and financial report presented by Vice President Patricia Owens. Owens said the income for this year ending on March 28 was $187,265. From July 1, 2020 to March 28, 2022, the bureau took in $178,768, leaving the bureau ahead by $8,497. The gross profit for this year so far is $176,578 with expenses for the year tallying up to $169,567 making a total net income of $7,011. The board passed motions to adopt the minutes and the financial report.
Board member Nick Dillard then presented nominations for the board of directors. The 2023 nominations for a two-year term include George Fisher, Jarrod Adkison, Allen Scheffer, Nick Dillard and Carlton Padgett. For a one-year term, nominees are Patricia Owens, Whit Gainey, Laverne Williams, Stacey Fisher and Josh Riley. The board was approved as presented.
With the conclusion of business, guests heard from special guest speakers. Up first was Florida Farm Bureau President Jeb Smith.
â€œFarming is important here in Chipley and all the way to Holmes Valley from Vernon to Gilbertâ€™s Mill to Wausau and Sunny Hills,â€ Smith said. â€œCattle, peanuts, cotton, hay and timber are grown here every day.â€
Smith said this has injected $8.9 million in total cash receipts to the local and state economy and thanked the generations of farmers who support the stateâ€™s second largest industry that produces over 300 commodities that consumers eat, wear and use.
Smith mentioned challenges todayâ€™s farmers and ranchers face with constant pressure to sell their land, regulations, taxes, lack of available labor, diseases, pests and bad weather that hurt profits and lead many to get out of the industry. There is also the issue of national security when it comes to the food supply.
â€œIt is a fact that farming is not always with ease – truly weather, pests, markets and disease,â€ Smith said. â€œMany things in the field are a challenge and that which we are trained to manage. It is the taxes and overbearing rules in trade with which we really need the aid.â€
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall was the next to speak. Duvall said he could relate on all of the issues plaguing farmers and that he works with those in Washington, D.C. and with Smith on challenges in the State of Florida.
â€œOne of the big issues is around the influx of cheap fruits and vegetables coming in from Mexico and how itâ€™s affected our farmers here in Florida and South Georgia,â€ Duvall said.
Duvall added that the American Farm Bureau has eight lobbyists that specialize in different areas and work with the USDA, EPA and with the White House on issues affecting agriculture.
â€œThere are a lot of issues facing agriculture today. The one biggest issue facing American agriculture today is labor,â€ Duvall said. Duvall has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico and said it does not matter the size of the farming operation – labor is short.
Duvall said regulatory issues make it hard for farmers to obtain migrant labor.
â€œWe need a constant stream of laborers coming here thatâ€™s willing to work in agriculture, and we need to be able to have them year-round,â€ Duvall said.
Duvall said farmers should be able to pay a fair wage in their neighborhood and one that will allow them to stay in business.
â€œNot many Americans want to do that work anymore. Nobody wants to show up at my house at 2:30 in the morning to go to a chicken house or milk cows,â€ Duvall said.
Duvall said 90 percent of the greens Americans eat – lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, etc. – is grown in Yuma, Arizona and harvested by 15,000 migrant workers who cross the border every morning to work on those farms.
â€œWe need those workers. If it wasnâ€™t for those workers, we wouldnâ€™t have the greens on our table that we have year-round here in America,â€ Duvall said.
The other single largest issue affecting the direction of American agriculture is the Farm Bill which has an impact on farming practices and what is produced.
â€œAs farmers, we have to make sure the nutrition program and the farm program stay together. Itâ€™s really a food and farm bill more than it is just a farm mill,â€ Duvall said. â€œThatâ€™s the only way we can generate enough votes from the people that are part of agriculture that live in states where there is not much agriculture. They will never vote for a farm bill that nutrition is not tied to.â€
The Farm Bureau maintains a forward-thinking approach to all issues that impact the industry. For more information about the Washington County Farm Bureau or another countyâ€™s chapter, visit FloridaFarmBureau.org.