Economy good for some farmers

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JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. -- The Georgia Farm Bureau is holding its 71st annual convention on Jekyll Island this week, but one thing hasn't changed in all that time.

Farming is still a hard way to make a living, farmers said.

But unlike many other sectors of the economy, farmers don't have a lot of trouble selling what they produce, Appling County farmer Randy Branch said.

"People are going to eat," said Branch, who majors in cotton, peanuts and soybeans. "There's going to be a need for food and fiber.''

Some of that food is bringing better prices than in years, Branch said.

Once called "poverty pods" because of poor prices, soybeans now bring $10.50 a bushel, nearly double the price not many years ago.

At 41, Branch is younger than most delegates as family farms go by the wayside. He is the fifth generation to farm the same land and doesn't expect to be the last. His 16-year-old son plans to farm, too.

When it comes to making a profit, however, farmers tend to be at the bottom of the food chain but they take the biggest risk in putting up their land for collateral for crop loans.

Howell McCallum of Coffee County said his cotton, which is being harvested now, is bringing $250 a bale. About 215 pairs of jeans can be made from one bale of cotton, according to a National Cotton Council chart.

Even on sale for $14, the jeans from that bale would bring in more than $3,000.

"What's wrong with this picture?" McCallum asked.

The bad economy has been good for peanut farmers, said Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Because they are such a good source of inexpensive protein, peanut consumption is at an all time high, he said.

"In hard times, folks tend to be charitable. The No. 1 thing requested by food banks is peanut butter,"' he said.

Although rains hampered farmers in planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall, Georgia growers are managing to get their crops in and should produce about 850,000 tons of peanuts, Koehler said.

The picture is far bleaker for tobacco, said J. Michael Moore, a tobacco expert for the University of Georgia in Tifton.

"We'll have a few farmers drop out this year,'' partly because Phillip Morris U.S.A. are not renewing contracts with growers, Moore said. When current 3- to 5-year contracts expire, Phillip Morris will be gone, Moore said.

Moore predicted that the tobacco crop will grow smaller each year, but he also noted, "There is no other crop that can bring in as much money per acre."

Ware County dairy farmer Lannis Moody said he and other milk producers are undergoing some hard times.

"Let's just say it's tight," he said, "but it'll turn back around."

Moody said he is sympathetic with others, but that farmers sometimes have it especially hard. At one point he stopped paying himself, Moody said.

"I heard some school teachers complaining about furlough days. I said, "Good gracious. You're talking about three days. I went two months,'" he said.

At least one delegate, James Lee of Brantley County, had nothing to complain about. Having raised chickens for years, Lee has retired.

"It's a good time to be retired," he said.

As he has done before, Gov. Sonny Perdue addressed the delegates and said Georgia does well when it learns lessons from farmers with their devotion to faith, family and hard work.

The delegates may have seen one of their future speakers. Several of those running for governor in 2010 addressed the convention.


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