POULAN, Ga. — U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Rep. Sanford Bishop came through Southwest Georgia Tuesday as part of their Ag Tour.
The two started the day in Fort Valley at Fort Valley State University’s Bishop Hall before moving to Leslie, Smithville, Bronwood, Leesburg and Doerun and ended the day in Poulan at the Dollison Farm. Dollison Farm is a Farm-to-Table operation growing and caring for row crop vegetables, peanuts and hog livestock.
Throughout the day, Warnock and Bishop listened and spoke with farmers and agricultural representatives about some of the biggest problems facing Georgia’s largest economic industry, according to Warnock’s Press Secretary Meredith Brasher.
During their final stop outside Poulan, Warnock and Bishop were greeted by members of the Dollison family and other farmers from the surrounding area. Ricky Dollison Sr. and his wife, Leila Dollison, coordinated the tour’s final event with Warnock’s and Bishop’s offices, according to their daughter and Dollison Farms Operations Manager Leiandra Dollison.
Ricky Dollison is a fourth generation owner and operator of Dollison Farms as well as the owner of Warrior Creek Premium Meats, which specializes in whole hog sausage. Leila Dollison is the election supervisor for Tift County and the on-farm event coordinator at Dollison Farms.
“My dad has done most of the planning for today and he is the one anybody involved with the problems in farming in South Georgia should talk to,” said Leiandra Dollison.
As the event began, Ricky Dollison thanked Bishop and Warnock for coming and began to introduce the other farmers he was representing as the speaker for the day. After his introductions, he asked Warnock to pray.
Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, prayed for those he had already visited, those in attendance, all farmers and what they produce, and “wisdom in these troubling times.”
After prayer, Ricky Dollison introduced Leila Dollison who read a passage from the Bible. He then introduced other members from the community as well as Dollison Farms and Warrior Creek Premium Meats.
“In 1949, my grandfather, my grandmother and my dad decided they liked the 200 acres where we now grow row crops, vegetables and livestock. We here at Dollison Farms like many other farmers around here are a family,” he said.
Dollison thanked Warnock and Bishop for the work they’ve done so far, but he also spoke of the problems still plaguing South Georgia farmers.
“We have students that can go to school and can work within the ag business. They don’t have to be farmers and this is why education is so important. We owe these opportunities to ya’ll,” he said. “But there is still work to be done.”
Dollison continued to speak about agricultural education as well as logistical difficulties, loan terms for the purchase of farmland, the high price of genetically modified livestock feed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices audit verification program.
“It’s difficult to get into markets outside of your immediate area without the G.A.P. certification and with every product I want to sell, the cost to become certified is more and more,” he said. “If a farmer wants to sell watermelons, peas, collards and mustard greens, that will cost about $12,000 in certification. Then you combine that with the costs to get the goods where they need to go and you see farmers are losing money just for the chance to broaden their market.”
Dollison ended his speech by thanking Warnock and Bishop for coming and listening. Warnock then stood up to speak.
“It’s been wonderful to be part of this ag tour. There is no other industry more important than ag in Georgia. We’re focused on these issues and we are learning a lot. One thing I learned as a pastor is, ‘You can’t lead the people if you don’t listen to them,’” Warnock said.
In an interview after the event, Warnock spoke about some of the biggest takeaways from the day.
“One of the things that I am heartened by is the ways in which the farmers are saying we can focus on productivity, prosperity and sustainability all at the same time, in fact we have to. That’s the words I’m hearing from these farmers so that will inform the kind of policy that I will put forward. In addition to that, equity is absolutely important considering the long history of discrimination against Black farmers and other farmers of color. We will be focused on all of those things and I am so excited about the work. I am deeply honored to have spent the day on the land and we will keep coming back to learn more.”
Warnock, who took office Jan. 20 following a runoff election against appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade.
Bishop, who has served Southwest Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.