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Leadership Mission on Agricultural Policy in the United States

For over 40 years, the American Council on Germany has organized transatlantic exchanges on agriculture and food policy. During the last week of October 2023, the ACG hosted nine young German professionals in a week-long exchange in the United States. The participants of the ACG’s Leadership Mission on Agriculture Policy and Resource Scarcity met with policymakers and practitioners in Washington, DC and Georgia.

On the evening of October 22, the cohort gathered in Arlington, VA for a discussion and dinner with ACG Senior Program Director Robin Cammarota. The group, many of whom had never been to the United States, discussed basic agricultural and trade policy, as well as the political climate in the United States.

Early on October 23, the group had a series of meetings in Washington, DC with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). A long-time partner of the ACG, the AFBF is the premier organization for agriculture policy in the United States. The group had the opportunity to discuss topics such as the Farm Bill, trade policy, farm labor issues, rural broadband access, and rural mental health.

Over lunch, the delegation met with ACG program alums who work in the agriculture sector – including Johnna Miller (2006 Agriculture Fellow), Senior Director of Media and Advocacy Training for the AFBF; John Torres and Lynne Finnerty (2004 Agriculture Fellow), both who work for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization; and Kristi Boswell (2014 Agriculture Fellow), Agricultural Policy Lawyer with Alston and Bird.  After a tour of the U.S. Capitol, during which the group learned some of American history, the group met with agricultural staff at the German Embassy.

The next morning, the group boarded a plane to Atlanta, GA, for meetings on state policies and site visits to farms. After being picked up from the airport by Natalie Adan (2022 Agriculture Fellow), Food Safety Division Director for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the group had a series of discussions on the types of farming in Georgia. Although known as the peach state, Georgia is the largest chicken-producing state in the country. In addition, Georgia is the largest producer of pecans, peanuts, blueberries, and onions. It is second in the country for the production of cotton, cucumbers, and watermelons; and third for bell peppers, peaches, and sweet corn. This creates a very diverse industry that makes up approximately 8 percent of the state’s GDP.

While at the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the group also met with Beth Oleson (2022 Agriculture Fellow), Director of Education and Food Safety for Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, who discussed some of the outreach the state does with children. Ms. Oleson then took the group on a tour of the Georgia State Capitol, during which they learned about the state’s history.

That evening, The Halle Foundation hosted a reception for the delegation. Named for Claus Halle, a German businessman who would go on to become President of Coca-Cola International, the Georgia-based organization helps promote transatlantic relations. The German Consul General Melanie Moltmann and several ACG alums attended the reception.

On Wednesday, October 25, the group was met by Caroline Lewallen (2022 Agriculture Fellow), Owner and Operator of TeXga Cattle Farm, who accompanied the group throughout the day. The first meeting took place at the laboratory of the Georgia Poultry Federation in Gainesville. Mike Giles, President of the Georgia Poultry Federation, explained the critical role the organization plays in the detection and elimination of poultry diseases.

Later that morning, the cohort received a tour of Jaemor Farms in Alto by owner Drew Echols. The farm was a prime example of agritourism, as it has activities such as pick-your-own berries, pumpkins, and flowers, hayrides, and a country store. While touring the farm, the group learned more about the challenges of finding and keeping farm labor. Most of the staff were on special visas, allowing them to stay in the United States for nine months of a year for farm production. The group also had the opportunity to try regional favorites like boiled peanuts.

That afternoon, the group had the unique experience of being invited to go onto the field of Stanford Stadium at the University of Georgia. UGA’s football team generates over $200 million in revenue, and supporters of the team were met at every meeting throughout the leadership mission. Following a visit to the stadium, they met with Dr. Todd Applegate, Assistant Dean for International Programs and Department Head and R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Chair in Poultry Science at UGA. He provided an in-depth tour of the Poultry Science Department, which had just opened a new facility only two weeks earlier.

Over dinner, the group was joined by Gary Black, former Commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Agriculture. Mr. Black discussed issues such as climate change and the future of farming. The group was also joined by Ward Black (2022 Agriculture Fellow), Owner of Solid Ground Services and Supply, who would stay with the group for the rest of the week.

On Thursday morning, the group visited James Greenhouses in Colbert. Operations Manager Brandon Heaver provided insight into how the company produces approximately 650 varieties of perennials, tropicals, and specialty annuals for stores across the U.S. The Greenhouse works closely with UGA to develop new plant varieties for clients around the globe. From there, the group traveled two hours to Statesboro to visit the Bulloch Fertilizer Company. Jon Marsh Anderson, Operations Manager, explained state regulations regarding fertilizers and pesticides.

Before the day’s final meeting, the group briefly stopped for a visit to a peanut farm. David Cromley, a sixth-generation farmer, showed how peanuts are farmed. He also explained how agricultural land is becoming increasingly valuable. Many landowners are selling their properties to developers, leaving farmers with little opportunity to farm. Mr. Cromley noted that this would be his last season planting peanuts on that particular plot of land as it had been sold.

The group received a tour of the Port of Savannah on Thursday afternoon. Jamie McMurray, Chief Administrative Officer of the Port, discussed how the port is the third largest in the country and the largest port for agricultural products. The largest exported product is cotton, which is shipped all over the world from Georgia.

After an early morning departure from Savannah, the group traveled to Surrency, Georgia for a visit to the Southeastern Gin and Peanut. Owner Kent Fountain showed how seeds and imperfections are removed from cotton through the ginning process.

Over lunch, the group visited the Great American Cobble Company for a meeting with State Senator Russ Goodman (2022 Agriculture Fellow). As a seventh-generation farmer, Senator Goodman understands the struggles of farming. He is the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the State Senate and splits his time between the Senate and his blueberry farm.

That afternoon, Jessica Bolesta (2022 Agriculture Fellow), part owner of the Corbett Brothers Farm, provided a tour of one of their bell pepper farms and packaging facilities, where dozens of products are packaged for shipment throughout the East Coast. Corbett Brothers has become the first farm in Georgia to produce oranges. She also operates Raisin’ Cane Country Store, which sells locally sourced products.

As a final stop that day, the group was invited by owner Chris Johnson to a tour of the Georgia Beer Company. He proudly showed off the hops from Germany, which are used in most of his beers. The group had the opportunity to try the unique variety offered there, including one that used the blueberries produced on Senator Goodman’s farm.

Departing the hotel before sunrise, the cohort headed to Poulan, GA, for breakfast with Ricky Dollison (2022 Agriculture Fellow) on his farm. Joined by members of the Dollison family and farming team, Mr. Dollison talked about his family’s history in agriculture and the struggles of being a farmer, particularly a Black farmer, in the South. He relies on family and faith to make it work for him. He also gave a tour of his cotton field and his pig farm.

In the afternoon, the group received a special welcome to Thomson Middle School in Centerville. Some two dozen students of Agriculture Teacher Kenneth Ford (2022 Agriculture Fellow) greeted the group with posters and cheers. The students took great pride in their agriculture education by showing off some plants they had grown and animals they had raised. As a highlight, the students taught the German cohort how to show off pigs for competition, including walking and guiding the pigs. The group was impressed by the level of dedication by the teachers, students, and parents to agriculture, as such an educational program does not exist in Germany but could be very beneficial for youth across the country.

At a final dinner, the group reflected on the busy week of meetings and visits. Every day started before 8:00 am and did not end until after dinner. However, during those long days, they were able to gain an understanding of agriculture policy in the United States and have some incredibly unique experiences few will ever have the privilege. Although the crops might differ between the two countries, the challenges remain the same – climate change, labor shortages, federal regulations, and supply chain issues exist on both sides of the Atlantic, and finding solutions to these challenges requires engagement with private and public entities. The new network developed through the Leadership Mission will continue to foster the exchange of ideas between the United States and Germany.

This exchange was generously sponsored by the Halle Foundation.

Program Participants

Florian Andersek
Agrargenossenschaft Hörseltal eG Burla

Elisabeth Boehnlein
Referent for the Environment
Landesbauernverband in Baden-Württemberg e.V.

Katrin John
LZ Rheinland

Theresa Kärtner
Policy Advisor Renewable Energy and Social Policy
German Farmers’ Association

Felix Müller
Managing Partner – System Operation Biogas and Wind Energy
Müller und Müller GbR

Andreas Puchner
Environmental Conversation and Climate Politics

Sebastian Schneider
Referent, Climate and Energy Politics
Hessischer Bauernverband e.V.

Jennifer Shuler
Adult Education, Organic Farming,
and Social Media
Badischer Landwirtschaftlicher Hauptverband

Christian Steckel
Junior District Manager
German Farmers’ Association