Local experts: Fee hike will hurt ag industry

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Alabama Environmental Management Commission (EMC) voted Friday to raise fees on livestock and poultry operations that will hurt the state’s farmers and agriculture industry, said the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Federation President Jimmy Parnell said he was disappointed in the EMC’s decision to hike fees for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) by 20 percent.

“Unlike other businesses, farmers can’t pass these added costs on to customers,” Parnell said. “The wholesale prices of beef, pork, chicken, eggs and milk are dictated by world markets, so these fees, if implemented, will come straight out of farmers’ pockets.”

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Parnell said the fees amount to thousands of dollars a year for some farm families, who already spend thousands to develop and implement water quality plans. Compounding the cost of the EMC’s decision are indications from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) that it will collect registration fees for the first time since the CAFO program’s inception in 1999. “For the past 16 years, the Alabama Farmers Federation has supported funding in the state budget for ADEM to offset CAFO fees,” Parnell said. “The new fee structure would represent a 120 percent increase for Alabama farmers, which would hamper economic growth and discourage investment in animal agriculture.”

The fees are especially concerning for Alabama’s poultry and egg industry, which generates $15.1 billion each year in economic impact and accounts for more than 86,000 jobs.

The 2016 General Fund budget specifically included a line item of $280,000 for the AFO/CAFO program. Despite the Legislature providing funding for farm registrations, ADEM has pushed for an across-the-board fee increase to make up for cuts elsewhere in its budget.

With the new fee structure, farmers would pay $450 to $2,725 in registration fees. Pike County poultry farmers will be ones to feel the pinch of the fee increases, said Mary Johnson, Federation director of news services.

Johnson said small cattle operations would not be impacted by the fee hikes for CAFOs but poultry farmers will be affected. The pork producers that could be affected are primarily in the northeastern and western part of the state. There are no pork producers in Pike County and only one dairy farm. “There will be annual renewal costs for the plans,” Johnson said. “The initial registration fee will be higher than the renewal fee and that fee will be based on the number of animal units.”