By Valerie Baldowski
County Committee elections for the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) are coming up, and local FSA officials are hoping turnout will be strong enough to make a difference in the farming community.
Deborah Bailey, program technician for the Henry-Butts-Clayton-Fayette-Spalding County FSA office, said the nomination period begins June 15. Nomination forms are available at the local FSA office until Aug. 3, said Bailey.
Ballots will be mailed to eligible voters beginning Nov. 6, and Dec. 7 is the last day to return completed ballots to the local FSA office, she said. The committee elections will be held on Jan 1, 2010.
The local FSA office in Henry County is at 333 Philips Drive, McDonough.
The two county committee members whose terms will be up, said Bailey, are William A. Simpson Jr., and Danny Meadows. The elections are staggered, she said. "Each member serves three years, but no more than three consecutive terms."
According to information from the FSA, agricultural producers of legal voting age are eligible to vote, if they participate in any FSA program.
A person not of legal voting age, but who supervises and conducts the farming operations of an entire farm, may also be eligible to vote, according to the FSA.
Bailey said the committee members are dedicated to helping local farmers, and voting in the county committee elections is critical. According to an FSA fact sheet, county committee members help deliver the FSA farm programs at the local level, and the farmers and ranchers who serve on the county committees help with the decisions necessary to administer the programs in their counties.
The committees provide local input on commodity price support loans and payments, conservation programs, emergency programs, and incentive, indemnity and disaster payments for some commodities, said Bailey.
Unfortunately, she said, voter turnout for the committee elections is usually low.
"It's very important," Bailey said. "They're the voice of agriculture for these five counties." Many do not cast a ballot, she explained, because they may forget about the upcoming elections.
There are between 1,800 and 2,000 farmers and ranchers in the FSA's five-county area, said Bailey. Out of all eligible voters in the farming community, she continued, only about one-third actually vote.
Larry Allen, a McDonough farmer and the FSA Committee Chairman, elaborated on several more reasons for low voter turnout. Sometimes, when ballots are sent out, Allen said, the destination address is outdated because the recipient has moved. In those cases, he explained, the ballots are returned as undeliverable.
"A lot of people don't keep their mailing addresses current, so we don't know where to find them," said Allen. Sometimes, ballots are returned after the deadline date, which also reduces the number of ballots that can be counted in the election results, he continued. A third reason is apathy in voting for any county committee elections at all, he acknowledged. "A lot of people just don't show any interest in it," Allen added.
Another local farmer, Jimmy Carter, spoke in support of the programs the FSA offers.
"The overall program itself is very important," said Carter. Jimmy Carter owns Southern Belle Farms on Turner Church Road. With his son, Jake Carter, the farm's manager, he grows alternating crops of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, sweet corn and tomatoes. The 200-acre farm also has "a handful" of cows, said Jake Carter.
Although the farm is registered with the FSA, Jimmy Carter acknowledged that he does not currently participate in any FSA programs. He did, however, take a more active role in FSA programs in years past.
When the elder Carter was a dairy farmer, from the 1940s through 1986, he said, he participated in the FSA Emergency Feed Program. Under that program, he explained, farmers can qualify for financial assistance to buy feed for their animals in droughts or natural disasters, based on the number of livestock the farmer owns and the severity of the disaster.