By Jason A. Smith
Henry, Clayton, Butts, Fayette, and Spalding counties are the southern wing of urbanization in the greater Atlanta area, but they also have a semi-rural bent, complete with farms, and farmers.
A total of 326 Henry County farmers are linked to an organization which seeks to meet the financial needs of the local agricultural community. The local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office is on the lookout for the person who will address those needs in the coming years.
The FSA, at 333 Phillips Drive, in McDonough, will accept nominations for a Local Administrative Area 2 representative, from June 15, through Aug. 1. The winning individual, for a three-year term, will represent an area of Henry east of Interstate 75, including Kelleytown, Ola, Locust Grove, Luella and the eastern half of McDonough.
The Henry office also covers Clayton, Butts, Fayette and Spalding counties, according to D.C. Mullis, Henry County executive director for the FSA. The Area 2 designee will represent farmers at county committee meetings of the FSA.
Mullis said farming has decreased drastically in Henry in recent years, due to the construction of subdivisions and commercial development, where farmland once stood.
"It's reduced the land that's actually being farmed," he said.
A news release issued this month from the FSA, highlights the need for farmers to be active with the agency.
"County Committees are a direct link between the farm community, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture," according to the press statement. "Committee members are a critical component of the day-to-day operations of the Farm Service Agency. They help deliver FSA farm programs at the local level. Farmers who serve on committees help decide the kind of programs their counties will offer.
The Henry FSA, Mullis added, currently concentrates much of its efforts on conservation, as well as conducting disaster-relief programs for farmers. It also protects crops such as hay, vegetables, and pastures, through its non-insured assistance program (NAP) program.
Mullis acknowledged that his agency operates under the radar of most residents, many of whom have never heard of it.
"Honestly, the only thing we deal with is farmers, so it doesn't really concern the general public," he said.
Mullis works closely with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in McDonough, according to Frank Hancock, the Extension's agriculture and natural resource agent. He said the FSA performs a valuable service, for those who make their living in agriculture.
"They evaluate crop losses, in helping to determine what the level might be," he said. "The agents in those other counties will come together, and we'll talk to folks at the University of Georgia to get an overall picture of what things look like for our areas."
Hancock added that there are likely many more farmers in Henry, than those who are registered with the FSA.
"There could be thousands of other farms," said Hancock. "I don't know exactly how many farms there are in Henry County. When you start talking about farms, you're talking about people that have small farms -- 15 to 20 acres -- and there's lots of those around. It's easier for me to talk about dairy farms. We have none."
Farmers can nominate themselves, or another individual, for the Area 2 post. Edward Cardell has been the Area 2 representative since October of 2010. He was filling an unexpired term of Larry Allen, who resigned last year. Cardell, of McDonough, has not ruled out continuing to serve.
"I will not nominate myself, but if someone were to nominate me, I would let my name stay on the ballot," Cardell said.
Nominees should actively participate in the operation of a farm, and be qualified for committee work.
Ballots will be mailed Nov. 4. The last day to return voted ballots to the local FSA Office is Dec. 5. For more information, call (770) 957-7473.