Farms and factories, opportunities and obstacles.
For more than 600 farmers attending the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 36th annual Commodity Producers Conference at Birmingham’s Cahaba Grand Conference Center on Aug. 7-9, it was all that and more as tours and seminars gave the state’s producers a glance at the future.The three-day conference, making its first return to the Magic City since 2004, was hailed by many as one of the most successful ever thanks to a wide range of tour stops and a full slate of timely seminars.”I love this conference! This is one of the best conferences we put on every year,” said Hal Lee, a Morgan County poultry farmer and a Federation vice president. “From my experience, this is one of the best ones we’ve had because we’ve discussed some issues that are pertinent to agriculture, and we’ve also met some new producers who’ve never been involved before. I think it’s been a great conference.”The opening night banquet saw state Rep. Alan Harper present a resolution honoring Mike and Annie Dee of Dee River Ranch for the Natural Resources Conservation Service 2008 Excellence in Conservation Award they recently received. State Sen. Kim Benefield presented a resolution recognizing Lamar and Felicia Dewberry of Lineville for their selection as Alabama’s Farm-City Farm of Distinction for 2008. Banquet attendees also got some comic relief from comedian John Branyan.On Friday, an unusually pleasant August day welcomed conference-goers — including four state legislators — to their choice of five tours. Participants included Sen. Benefield, Reps. Jeremy Oden, James Fields and Paul DeMarco and State Auditor Sam Shaw and her husband, Judge Greg Shaw, a candidate for the State Supreme Court, Place 1.Tour stops included visits to such diverse operations as David Wilson’s on-farm bio-diesel facility in Talladega County, Jesse Goodwin’s goat farm in Sylacauga, the Crown Diamond Quarter Horse ranch in Blountsville, the Whitley family’s red angus farm in Horton and others.H.G. Miles, a Randolph County poultry farmer who retired after 30 years on Ford Motor Company’s Atlanta assembly line, said his favorite non-farm tour stop was a visit to Honda Manufacturing’s plant in Lincoln. “As soon as I walked in the plant and saw all the cars moving down the line and the workers working, it brought back old memories of the days when we chased cars down the line. The smell was the same, the rubber, new paint … it brought back memories.”On Saturday morning, more than a hundred farmers packed a meeting room to hear American Farm Bureau Federation Livestock Economist Jim Sartwelle discuss profitability in agriculture. While acknowledging that the increased use of corn for ethanol has contributed to higher feed prices, Sartwelle pointed the finger at a weak U.S. dollar and increased global demand for much of the volatility in livestock prices.”This seminar is titled ‘Livestock Profitability in an Ethanol World,’ but it could just as appropriately be named ‘Livestock Profitability in a World with a Worth-Less Dollar,'” said Sartwelle, noting that while the dollar still has value, it is only worth about two-thirds of a euro. “A weak dollar is good for what we export in agriculture, but it is not good for the things we import, and we have outsourced most of our inputs including fertilizer.”Sartwelle predicted beef cow numbers in the United States will likely decline as farmers continue to find ways to produce more pounds of meat with fewer cows. Meanwhile, he said pork prices will remain volatile due to the nation’s lack of processing capacity. In addition, Sartwelle said American grain farmers need to substantially increase corn production to meet the growing demand from ethanol and exports, but he worried that high soybean prices and falling corn prices this fall might discourage Midwest growers from expanding production.Another popular seminar featured State Young Farmers Chairman Will Gilmer and Federation Beef, Equine and Forage Director Perry Mobley. In his talk, Mobley outlined the threat to animal agriculture posed by activist animal welfare groups and challenged farmers to become advocates for their industry.”If we don’t tell our story, other people will,” Mobley said. “Studies have shown that farmers, especially farm wives, have a high level of credibility with the general public, but we have to be willing to tell our story.”Gilmer followed up on Mobley’s comments by giving a presentation about his farm that he prepared after attending training in May as part of the AFBF’s Ag Challenges Initiative. The national program is aimed at equipping livestock producers to be spokespeople for the industry.Marlon Cook of the Geological Survey Of Alabama provided an update on Alabama’s water resources in which he reminded attendees that while the state doesn’t have a water shortage, it does have a lack of water management which can lead to shortages.
“We’ve got legislators in leadership positions who are saying, ‘I turned on the faucet this morning and the water came out, we’re fine. It rained yesterday, we’re fine,'” said Cook. “But they don’t realize that when that switch is thrown, we’re really going to face havoc.”Gerald Willis, special assistant to the chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service, headlined a seminar on “Harvesting Energy from the Land” in which he provided a look at what’s happening in the way of renewable energy.Other seminars included “Farm Security and Farm-Related Crimes” by Bob Holley, chief investigator with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, “Future Potential and Challenges for U.S. Red Meat in the Global Marketplace” by Keith Miller of the U.S. Meat Export Federation and a workshop on conservation tillage systems for cotton, corn, wheat, soybean and peanuts.In addition, there was a CAFO training workshop and the Alabama Department of Revenue, Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety discussed new farm equipment regulations on highways.Jimmy Carlisle, director of the Federation’s Commodity Division, was elated at the close of Saturday morning’s sessions.”We’ve been extremely pleased with the attendance at the seminars, and I’ve heard numerous comments about the quality of the topics being presented,” Carlisle said, adding that this year’s attendance was about the same as last year despite high fuel prices. “The seminars were filled with very timely information to help put the profitability back into Alabama agriculture. Even though our people are going through hard times, they are still excited about the possibility of agriculture moving forward.”At Saturday evening’s closing banquet, Doug Terrell of Elmore County won a $250 gift certificate from Grainger, and David Hataway of Ramer won an all-expense paid trip to the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Agriculture Expo in Moultrie, Ga., on Oct. 14-16.The 2009 Commodity Producers Conference will take place in Montgomery.
Farms and factories, opportunities and obstacles.