By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan spoke to the Rainy Day Patriots Thursday about his department.
Commissioner McMillan said, “The agency was a total disaster,” when he took over. It was “broke” and the poor fiscal situation required that he had to lay off 25% of the department’s staff. Then the tornados hit…”and the list goes on.” Com. McMillan said that he had to face nine different crises during that first year as Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. McMillan said that the Department does more than just agriculture. “You have no idea how many responsibilities my department has.”
Com. McMillan said that the passage of HB56, titled The Alabama Citizens and Taxpayers Act, caused a difficult situation for Alabama farmers because of the timing of its implementation. Com. McMillan said, “Last year, it was at the end of the harvest season. It did have a tremendous impact. There was a whole myriad of problems.”
Com. McMillan said that it was too early to tell if there would be a labor shortage this year. The Commissioner said he was really concerned with the plant nursery business which is really strong in Baldwin and Mobile counties. He had a seminar to see what the Dept. could do to help the nursery growers. This year the farmers are using more legal H-2A program legal immigrants. Com. McMillan said that one of the largest nurseries was getting laborers with green cards from West Africa now.
The Commissioner said that a lot are cutting back on the amount of produce that they grow. The Commissioner said that one farmer near Dothan who used to plant 136 acres of cantaloupes every year planted corn, cotton, and soybeans instead this year because he doubted that he could get enough documented workers to pick all of the cantaloupes at harvest.
Com. McMillan said that the poultry industry was not as heavily dependent on illegals. “The main place it affects the poultry industry is the people that catch the chickens and put them into boxes to be loaded onto trucks.” McMillan said that the biggest objection for the H-2A Agricultural workers visa program is that you can’t depend on the federal government to get all of the paperwork done in time to import legal workers in by the time of harvest. Getting H-2A workers also costs a little more and is more difficult. The farmers used agents to get their labor for them when using likely undocumented workers before HB56.
Com. McMillan said that the state needed to encourage more small producers to get in to the produce market. McMillan said less than an acre intensively growing vegetables for sale could generate a $50,000 a year income. “That may be the best hope for economic development in the Black Belt.”
Commissioner McMillan told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that he was able to get all of the bills that his department needed through this legislative session, but admitted that he was still unsure about the General Fund Budget for fiscal year 2013.
The Rainy Day Patriots are a Tea Party Group that meets on the third Thursday of each month at Hoover Tactical Firearms in Hoover at 7:00 pm. Zan Green is the founder and President of the conservative political group.