Farming group could carry clout

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, February 20, 2007

By Staff
Opponents of a Navy outlying landing facility in North Carolina are waiting for the cavalry to come to the rescue, and it may come driving a tractor instead of riding on horseback.
Officials of NO-OLF are mounting an effort to get the American Farm Bureau Federation to put its clout on the side of those trying to keep their farms in Beaufort and Washington counties. A resolution supporting that is set to go before the North Carolina Farm Bureau executive board on Friday.
When farmers speaks in Washington, politicians listen, and they hope to find an friend in the AFBF. Those opposed to the landing field are seeking support from the national farm organization with direct lobbying assistance and the elevation of the OLF issue to priority status.
If nothing else, even the endorsement of the state farm bureau would be important. It has over 470,000 member families and has been around since 1936.
Even without the potential loss of 30,000 acres to the Navy, farming is being threatened. North Carolina lost another 1,000 farms in 2005, continuing a decline that has seen the state lose 300,000 acres of farmland since 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Florida and Tennessee also lost about 1,000 farms in 2005, according to the USDA’s annual report on farm numbers and acreage. South Carolina gained 100 farms, Georgia saw no change and Virginia lost only 200 farms.
The total number of U.S. farms declined by 8,900 during 2005, according to the report.
At issue with many local farmers is the fact that the government can take your land even if you don’t wish to sell. The issue of eminent domain isn’t new, but there is a new wrinkle that is already on the AFBF’s radar even if the OLF isn’t.
The federation has taken issue with the Supreme Court decision that private property can be confiscated by local government entities for private economic-development projects. No longer does government have to demonstrate a public need for the land.
“All private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner so long as it might be upgraded,” wrote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her dissent to the ruling. “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent (local governments) from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”
AFBF President Bob Stallman said “No one’s home, or farm and ranch land is safe from government seizure because of this ruling.”
While the Navy’s proposal would transfer private land to federal ownership, the issue of Big Brother is a rallying cry for No-OLF advocates.
A lot will be going down in the next few weeks. One of the key issues will be the release of a draft environmental impact statement by the Navy, which could come in days. That kicks off a public-comment period of 30 to 45 days and a series of public hearings.
It’s crunch time. Those who might have stood on the sidelines before need to step up and voice their opinions. That’s what America is all about.