State FFA members discuss flood relief, future of agriculture with state legislators
COLUMBIA — FFA members from across South Carolina gathered at the state capitol Feb. 24 for the 2016 FFA Legislators Appreciation Day. The members met with state legislators to discuss the future of the state’s agriculture industry as well as immediate needs. FFA is the organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America.
“We are meeting with our legislators to learn about what they do on a daily basis,” said FFA President Katie Martin of Pendleton. “We also want to learn about any current legislation they are working on as related to South Carolina agriculture.”
Gene Hogan, research director for Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Verdin (R-Laurens), said he was honored to be able to speak to youth who “…will be the adults making the decisions that will direct the state’s future.”
“Agriculture is the largest industry in the state,” Hogan said. “It contributes $42 billion to the state’s economy every year. Agriculture affects everyone and it’s our responsibility to see that agriculture is protected so that everyone benefits.”
In a meeting with Rep. David Hiott (R-Pickens), the state FFA officers discussed a farm aid bill designed to help South Carolina farmers who were financially devastated following the October 2015 flood.
“This bill will allow farmers who lost 40 percent of their crops to apply for state assistance,” said Hiott, chairman of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee. “This money will help South Carolina farmers buy seed and other things they need to get crops in their fields this year. If the farmers lose their crops, who’s going to feed us?”
Brandon Myers, state FFA vice president from Lexington, agrees passage of this bill is needed.
“This bill is needed to help our farmers be able to plant their crops this next year and go on with their farming following last year’s devastating floods,” Myers said. “Hopefully, this bill will pass and we’ll have good news for our farmers.”
Both Verdin and Hiott presented a Concurrent Resolution of Recognition and Commendation to the State FFA officers on behalf of all the members of the South Carolina General Assembly.
In another discussion about farm aid, Hugh Weathers, South Carolina commissioner of agriculture, talked to the FFA members about Plant it Forward, an initiative designed to provide farmers funds to help cover a portion of their seed costs for 2016. The initiative also will provide relief funds for hay losses livestock farmers experienced as a result of the flooding.
Many farmers are facing unprecedented challenges this year, Weathers said. Direct crop losses are estimated to be more than $300 million.
“Crop insurance only covers a third of these costs, leaving farmers to pay for the rest,” he said. “When farmers take a hit, there is a ripple effect – we all feel it. We have to do what we can to ensure our farmers have what they need to overcome the losses they experienced last year and are able to be productive this year.”
Weathers also presented a Governors Proclamation to the State FFA officers on behalf of Governor Nikki Haley in recognition of National FFA Week Feb. 20-27.
The week of George Washington’s birthday was designated as National FFA Week in 1947 at a National FFA board of directors meeting. FFA Week always runs from Saturday to Saturday and encompasses Washington’s Birthday.
Other activities for the day included presenting George Askew, Clemson vice president of Public Service and Agriculture, an Honorary State FFA Degree. The purpose of the honorary degree is to recognize individuals who have given outstanding service to agricultural education and the FFA program.
“This (degree) is quite an honor,” Askew said. “I want to thank you for this and for your service to South Carolina agriculture. When I see blue jackets come to campus, I know agriculture will remain strong in this state, in this nation. I have complete faith agriculture is going to be strong because of people like you.”
The “blue jackets” Askew referred to are blue corduroy jackets that have been worn by FFA members since the 1930s.
James “Jay” Lucas, speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, was presented the Honorary American FFA Degree. This degree is reserved for those individuals who have gone beyond the call of duty to promote and support the mission of the FFA at the local, state and national levels. This prestigious award is considered to be among the top agricultural awards available in America.
The 2015-2016 state FFA officers conducted the awards ceremony in the Blatt office building. FFA state officers for 2015-2016 are: President Katie Martin from the Pendleton chapter, Secretary Blair Horton from the McBee chapter, Vice President Thomas Wilkerson from the York chapter, Vice President Brandon Myers from the Pelion chapter, Vice President Candace Clinkscales from the Belton-Honea Path chapter and Vice President Kelly Coons from the Aiken chapter.