Henry farmers show anxiety about future

Farmers in Henry County are attempting to salvage their ability to continue to operate, and they are appealing to local legislators for help.

There is a fear among farmers that a law, which has been repealed, that taxed farm equipment and supplies, will be resurrected. Henry farmers want their legislators to fight any such effort.

"Farmers are able to farm in Henry County because of the value of farmland, not the value of developed land," said Henry County Farm Bureau President, Ross McQueen.

"There's a special tax base for farmland. Farmers don't have to pay a sales tax in Georgia for their fertilizer, and the stuff it takes to grow a crop. We are trying to protect the few things that we do have, that enable us to stay in business.

"We go to our legislators for anything that affects farmers of Georgia," said McQueen. "We try to get them to listen to our side. Farmers are a minority in Georgia, so we have to work harder to be heard."

Henry's agricultural past mostly centered on cotton from the 1800s to 1912, according to author Michael Reaves, in his book "Historic Henry County."

Many former farms were sold to developers of the sprawling subdivisions that dot Henry County, and helped to propel the county into the national spotlight, as one of the fastest growing suburban counties in the nation, during the 1990s.

However, there are still viable farms in Henry County, and their operations run the gamut from specializing in the production of cattle, hay, pigs, and milk, to growing vegetables, fruits, and chickens for the state's multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.

McQueen and more than 500 Farm Bureau members, dined with legislators in Atlanta, earlier this month, during Farm Bureau Day, Feb. 8, to discuss their concerns. The group included members from 100 counties across the state.

Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough) was at the luncheon. He said he was unaware of any tax on farmers, pending in the state legislature.

"I'm not going to support any tax increase on farmers," Davis said.

"Eight or nine years ago, there was a tax you had to pay on your inventory," explained farmer Larry Rape of McDonough. "There's always a danger of going back to that. If that happens, it would be just like if the price of fuel goes up. You either have to raise the price of what you grow or sell, or you have to take a loss."

Rape operates a 200-acre hay farm, which housed cattle, until about five years ago.

"The prices were up on the cattle, and I was going to get some later," said Rape. "Later hasn't gotten here yet."

He added that tax-related issues in Georgia, have affected his ability to run his farm.

Jake Carter is a co-owner of Southern Belle Farm, a 200-acre facility in McDonough, where he grows strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and vegetables. A former dairy farmer, Carter transformed his farm into a local tourist attraction, when he opened a seven-acre corn maze on his property.

Carter said the tourism venture has thrived, despite land prices for farms, because of an increased curiosity from the public about agriculture.

"One of the things we recognize is that, in Henry County, people are interested in knowing where their food comes from," Carter said.