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The Bedrock of Alabama’s Economy

By John McMillan
Commissioner, Department of Agriculture and Industries

Back in 1883, the Alabama Department of Agriculture was founded with a mission to promote and support the state’s No. 1 industry while regulating and reporting on various aspects of farm production. Cotton was king then as a growing America demanded greater and greater quantities of fiber to supply the nation’s textile mills.

The first agriculture commissioner was Edward Chambers Betts (1820-1891), a lawyer and planter from Madison County. Until 1900, the agriculture commissioner was appointed by the governor; since that time, it has been an elected position serving concurrently with Alabama’s six other constitutional officers.

Agriculture rapidly changed during the last century thanks to mechanized farming and now technology-based agronomy. It was during the last half century when much of Alabama’s population shifted from rural farm communities to metropolitan areas.

During this time, Alabama’s manufacturing and technology sectors have flourished to the point that we now have a greater percentage of our work force employed by manufacturers than any other state in the South. Automotive and aerospace companies have found Alabama a great place to do business. That being said, the bedrock of our economy remains farming, agribusiness and forestry.

Over one third of Alabama’s workers currently earn their living from the cultivation, production and fabrication of food and fiber. These three basic industries of agriculture, agribusiness and forestry along with their supplier companies generate nearly $71 billion a year, or roughly 38% of Alabama’s gross domestic product.

Thanks to economic research conducted by the Alabama Agribusiness Council and Alabama Cooperative Extension System, we now have a comprehensive economic impact study that measures the number of jobs and dollars generated per industry on a statewide and county-by-county basis.

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Businesses small and large are stakeholders in this vast industry have a global perspective of providing for not only Alabama and the U.S. but to markets throughout the world. Truly, our greatest challenge now is meeting a worldwide demand that is expected to double in the next three decades.  It will take greater focus on research and technology to rise to this challenge.

During the month of November, we commemorate our 130 years of serving Alabama agriculture, confident in our mission and in the men and women who dedicate their lives and earn their livelihoods from farming, agribusiness and forestry. They are the reliable providers of food and fiber to the world for generations to come.

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John McMillan is commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. You can contact him by email at [email protected]

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