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Cotton grower says: Don't put rural America at risk

Mike Newberry says he probably epitomizes the family farmer. How he really wants Americans to regard him, though, is as “a key component of U.S. production agriculture.”

A multi-generation farmer, Newberry raises corn, cotton, peanuts and beef cattle on his 3,000-acre operation about 35 miles southwest of Albany, Ga. A graduate of the National Cotton Council of America's Cotton Coalition program, he's putting his communications training to use — helping Americans and lawmakers gain a better understanding of 21st century American farmers.

“All we ever ask is to get treated as fairly as possible,” he said. “We're placed under a lot of restrictions, a lot of requirements that farmers in the rest of the world are not under. Because of that, our costs of production are going to be higher.”

Newberry wants Congress to know that U.S. farmers are grateful for a farm law “that's probably the best ever” and one that provides an important safety net for protection against wide fluctuations in commodity prices and crop-devastating weather. He said Congress doesn't need to change the farm law by further restricting farm program payments because “it's hard enough to operate as it is.”

Newberry also wants to remind Congress that “an awful lot of people depend on the health of the American family farm.”

Then, there's the matter of national security. “The American people want the shelves to be full with whatever they want to eat, whatever they want to drink and whatever kind of clothes they want to wear,” Newberry said. “That's not something that can happen unless you have some mechanism to support American agriculture.”

Staying in business is another point Newberry wants to drive home.

He wants people to understand that the family farm is just that, a business that happens to be production agriculture.

“I have to go out and secure financing and the materials I need for planting and raising a crop, do my own marketing and all the things in between,” Newberry said. “We look everyday for some other way to cut our costs, just as we look for a way to sell our products at a higher price. It's a business by any definition.”

Newberry is quick to point out that farming is a risky business, one that is subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature even as it is charged with providing the nation's most important commodities — food and fiber.

“We need to maintain a safe agricultural economy for the U.S., which, in turn, will insure our people have food and fiber for any day and every day, and of great quality,” Newberry said. “That's what it's all about.”

To Don Phillips, Newberry is more than a key component of U.S. production agriculture. Newberry is a vital cog in the Calhoun County, Ga., economy, just as agriculture is vital to the overall Georgia economy.

“Without agriculture here, we would have tumbleweed blowing through the yard,” said Phillips, who manages 20 employees at the Southern Agricultural Services cooperative in Arlington, Ga. “Without farmers, a place like this wouldn't exist. Everything in our area is related to agriculture. All the businesses depend on it.”

Recently-released U.S Census data supports Phillips' statements. According to the 2002 U.S. Census, about one of every three jobs in Calhoun County is agriculture-related while the market value of agricultural products sold in Georgia was just under $5 billion. And, according to the National Cotton Council, this nation's food and fiber industries annually employ 25 million people, produce output valued at $3.5 trillion and account for 15 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

Phillips also noted that the current farm law has been very good for the economy of southwest Georgia. He said the most important thing Americans can tell their congressional members is to support farmers by staying the course on the farm law and resolving trade issues.

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