Guest Submission: Georgia Farm Bureau Staff
As we celebrate the Fourth of July and our freedoms as Americans, Georgia farmers can also celebrate the Georgia General Assembly passing the Freedom to Farm Act, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law on April 13.
The Freedom to Farm Act provides farms that have been operating for at least two years protection against nuisance lawsuits provided the farm is complying with all laws, rules, regulations, and local zoning ordinances. Nothing in this bill negates any environmental law or the ability of local governments to determine where farms can be located and operate. If a farm starts a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), the two-year window of opportunity for someone to bring a nuisance suit starts anew.
Getting the General Assembly to pass this legislation was a priority issue for Georgia Farm Bureau for several years following the increase in nuisance claims being brought against farmers across the state. While the legislation did face some opposition and a number of hurdles, it had broad support from the agricultural community, and solved a major problem facing Georgia’s number one industry.
“Georgia Farm Bureau has long believed that Georgia farmers have the right to make a living without fear of being sued out of business for nuisance over normal farming practices. The Freedom to Farm Act protects that right for producers who operate in the way they are supposed to, in the places they are supposed to,” said GFB President Tom McCall. “We’re grateful that our state lawmakers understand the importance of protecting Georgia’s largest industry and we thank those who supported this bill. I appreciate all the Farm Bureau members who reached out to their state legislators asking them to support this bill and the other ag organizations who worked with us to get this bill passed. It will help protect the future of our younger generations who want to farm.”
The Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Georgia Green Industry Association, Georgia Milk Producers, Georgia Poultry Federation, and the Georgia Urban Ag Council, as well as other state business partners including the National Federation of Independent Business and the Georgia Chamber joined forces with Farm Bureau to advocate for this much needed change to Georgia’s Right to Farm statute.
“Agriculture has been the foundation of our economic success,” Gov. Kemp said at the bill signing ceremony. “Even after all these years of new economy job growth in the No. 1 state for business, agribusiness and agriculture continue, by far, to be our No. 1 industry. That will always be one of the defining traits of the Peach State. Our farming families are now more important than ever before, and that’s one of the many reasons why it’s so crucial that we protect this way of life.”
Rep. Robert Dickey, (R-Musella), chairman of the Georgia House Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, sponsored the bill, which had five cosponsors and received final passage on April 4, the final day of the 2022 Georgia legislative session.
“We pulled together at the capitol this year on many issues just to keep agriculture strong in our state,” Dickey said.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Larry Walker (R-Perry), led the effort to get HB 1150 passed in the Georgia State Senate.
“We started working on this bill in 2019 with then-Chairmen (Tom) McCall and Chairman (John) Wilkinson, and we have finally gotten it over the finish line, and I’m proud today to see the governor’s going to sign it,” Walker said. “I think the pandemic and the supply chain challenges and the food supply challenges we’ve seen over the last two years has made it more evident to the citizens of Georgia how important our farmers are and how important our food supply is, to our food security and also to our national security.”
Walker noted that 85 county Farm Bureau presidents personally wrote letters to state legislators in support of the bill.
As Georgia farm families contend with so many challenges to grow our food and fiber – drought, higher fuel and fertilizer costs, and more stringent regulations than farmers in other countries – hopefully the Freedom to Farm Act will make nuisance lawsuits one less thing they have to worry about.