By Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1)
Despite Alabama’s growth in manufacturing, agriculture remains the top industry in the state, as well as the top industry right here in Alabama’s First Congressional District. The economic impact of agriculture in our state is over $70 billion. Here in Southwest Alabama, over 102,000 jobs are connected to agriculture and forestry.
In Congress, I have made it a top priority to support agriculture. From voting in favor of the 2014 Farm Bill to helping push back against costly regulations, I am constantly looking for ways to make life easier for our farmers and foresters.
In order to better understand the issues facing the industry, I recently held my second annual “Ag Matters” tour of farms and forests in Southwest Alabama. I was honored to be joined on the tour by Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture John McMillan and representatives from the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Forestry Association.
We kicked things off in Baldwin County at Sirmon Farms near Belforest. I checked out their sweet potato and hydroponic lettuce operations, visited one of their cotton fields, and rode in the cotton picker.
From there, we headed over to Canfor/Scotch-Gulf’s lumber mill in Mobile. They also have mills in Jackson and Fulton. I learned about the need for the Forest Service to make more timber available for purchase, which is good for the lumber mills but also helps keep the forest healthy.
Next, we headed up to Washington County to check out timber harvesting near Chatom. Our foresters continue to face a range of challenges associated with the Endangered Species Act. I believe it is important we reform the Endangered Species Act to make sure it is based in actual science and does not place unnecessary burdens on our foresters. In fact, healthy forest management is actually good for many of these species.
After spending dinner with the Baldwin County Farmers Federation, we kicked off the next day at AGRI-AFC in Atmore. When thinking about agriculture, it is easy to forget all the different businesses that support our farmers. AGRI-AFC provides crop nutrient and crop production products, in addition to agronomic services. Science is very important to ensure the soil is healthy and ready for planting.
Next, we visited Brooks Farms near Uriah. It was harvest time for cotton, and I was able to check out their cotton gin. Cotton farmers faced another difficult year due to low prices. Farmers hoped the federal Department of Agriculture would designate cottonseed as an “other oilseed,” which would have provided assistance through farm bill programs. Sadly, they failed to make that designation, but I will continue pressing for the change to be made.
While in Monroe County, we visited Harrigan Lumber in Monroeville. Over 90 percent of the total workforce in Monroe County is connected to agriculture and forestry. I talked with the Harrigan family about the need to improve skills training and fight back against burdensome regulations from the Department of Labor.
We wrapped things up in Clarke County at Silver Creek Forests near Whatley. I observed an operation where they spray a solution on the clear cut to kill species that would compete with the loblolly pine, which they were preparing to plant. It was helpful to learn more about healthy forest management practices.
Overall, it was a very informative few days of learning more about the challenges our farmers and foresters face on a daily basis. The “Ag Matters” Tour simply reaffirmed my commitment to fighting for agriculture throughout my time in Congress.