Alabama Ag Commissioner Focused on How to Feed the World
Monday, March 12th, 2012
By 2050 – about 38 growing seasons from now – the world's population is projected to hit 9 billion. That fact has Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillian thinking about how Alabama growers can help feed the world.
"There are studies that show the world will have more mega-cities with smaller ag production coming from classrooms and families. We're already seeing some of that in Alabama," McMillan said.
"We're working with universities and private groups to address some of the challenges that arise with smaller ag production like how you aggregate it and get it to market."
Among the efforts under way at the Department of Agriculture and Industries are a new program to work with small producers of fruits and vegetables and initiatives focused on the growth and export of organics. In all its efforts, the department is working more closely with other state and federal organizations as well as private groups.
"Because of the cutbacks we've had in our budget, we're trying to network with others to expand our capabilities," McMillan said.
Priorities for 2012
With the state legislature in session, the focus this year is on proposed legislation to expand the irrigated acreage in Alabama by providing tax credits and other incentives to growers. With many growers leasing their acreage from landowners, they often lack the long-term commitment needed to invest in irrigation.
"Alabama has significantly less acreage under irrigation than Georgia or Mississippi. It's become a bigger issue in recent years as we've seen drier conditions," McMillan said.
Other proposed legislation would change the state's immigration act to make it more user friendly. The department also has grassroots efforts under way to help match growers who need workers with programs such as the Alabama Employment Centers and prison transition programs that can offer potential workers.
"Our state immigration law was passed later in the year than in other states so we did not feel the full impact of it in 2011," McMillan said.
A positive outlook
McMillan believes the next two to five years hold promise for farmers and ranchers. Even with the cost of inputs increasing, the outlook for profits remains positive.
"Like every other market, agriculture is now global. U.S. growers need to focus on being the primary producer in crops with good profit margins like corn. Here in Alabama, our biggest export is poultry," McMillan said.
According to McMillan, the refrigeration capabilities in the port of Mobile are keeping pace with the expected growth in poultry exports. That puts Alabama is a good position to be a primary producer of poultry in the global market.
Action in Washington, D.C. on a 2012 Farm Bill is also encouraging given the important safety net the bill provides farmers and ranchers. Recently the House Agriculture Committee announced a series of field hearings scheduled for March and April to gather feedback from growers on the impact of ag policy.
"We're fortunate in Alabama to have two House members on the Ag Committee. It looks like we will get a farm bill – one that emphasizes crop and livestock insurance and includes some changes on the conservation side," McMillan said
More information on the initiatives under way at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is available at agi.alabama.gov.