One of Bishop's aides said the farmer uttered a racial slur toward the black congressman in March, and the aide later left an angry voicemail for the farmer. The farmer denies using the slur.
Republican challenger Mike Keown has seized on the incident in his campaign against Bishop. A former GOP county chairman recently asked a Congressional ethics office to investigate Bishop and the staffer who left the angry message, which included the suggestion the congressman would no longer help the farmer with federal subsidies.
The dispute has garnered attention in a district evenly split between blacks and whites. The district includes former plantation land near the Florida border, peanut fields, President Jimmy Carter's boyhood home, urban Albany and the military base at Ft. Benning.
The flap began March 27 at a festival in rural Blakely celebrating the peanut crop.
Farmer and fertilizer salesman Edward Wilkins, 60, said he drove his antique car in a festival parade, then parked it so bystanders could view it. Bishop, who was campaigning, walked up to the car and looked inside it.
"He said, 'Real nice car,'" Wilkins said. "And I said, 'Thank you, sir, and I still ain't going to vote for you.'"
Then the lawmaker walked away and nothing more was said, according to Wilkins.
Those on Bishop's side tell a different story.
James Crozier, an agricultural specialist on Bishop's staff, wrote in a memo that the congressman and the farmer talked about Bishop's vote in support of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The memo was released by Bishop's campaign.
When Bishop walked away, Wilkins turned to the congressman's entourage and cursed the lawmaker with a racial slur, wrote Crozier, who did not return a phone call seeking further comment. Bishop did not hear the remark.
Johnny McClain, 54, said he was standing about three feet from Wilkins. He said he saw the farmer take a cigar from his mouth and heard him say the slur. McClain supports Bishop politically and is a friend of Crozier's.
Wilkins denies using any racist language and was indignant upon reading Crozier's memo, which he said is a lie.
"I did not call him no names," Wilkins said. "I'm telling the truth."
A few hours later, things got more complicated.
Crozier left a voicemail on the farmer's cell phone suggesting he would no longer help Wilkins seek U.S. Farm Service Agency loans. To farmers, the low-interest loans are a lifeline that helps them acquire seed, rent farmland, buy fertilizer, afford irrigation and pay workers.
"My boss man heard what you said there a while back so don't you call me about no .... FSA money no more," Crozier said in a voicemail message that contained an expletive.
Crozier had previously helped Wilkins and his fertilizer customers secure FSA loans, Wilkins said. No one has interfered with that funding since the phone call. Still, Wilkins was angry.
"He does not have the right to call a person and threaten him like that," he said.
Bishop reprimanded Crozier over the voicemail in March, said Tim Turner, a Bishop campaign spokesman.
"Congressman Bishop feels very strongly that regardless of the provocation and circumstances - including the use of the 'n' word - that Crozier was obligated, expected to and would in fact work to assist our constituents," Turner said.
The reprimand has not satisfied Keown, the Republican running against Bishop. His campaign has circulated a copy of the voicemail and questioned why Crozier has not been fired.
"Without question, if someone on our staff had said this to a farmer or anyone else, he would no longer work for Mike Keown," said Andrew O'Shea, Keown's campaign manager. "And Congressman Bishop has given him nothing more than a slap on the wrist."
One of Keown's supporters, Jason Sellars, filed a complaint last week with the Office of Congressional Ethics accusing Bishop and his staffer of breaking House rules forbidding Congressional officials from withholding government help because of political considerations.
OCE spokesman Jon Steinman said the office has received the complaint, but he could not comment on whether investigators will examine the case.