March 3, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Agriculture and Industries, Department of

Op-Ed: Alabama's Economic Future Tied to Agriculture

Alabama’s Economic Future Tied to Agriculture


By John McMillan


Other than a trip to the grocery store or occasional visit to a farmer’s market, many people seldom give a thought to the role agriculture plays in our economy. All told, Alabama agriculture generates $5 billion a year and is responsible for some 480,000 jobs, representing one-fifth of our work force.


What you may not know is Alabama’s Department of Agriculture and Industries plays a vital role in protecting these jobs and the companies that employ them. By law, our inspectors must protect the safety of our food and certify the quality of a wide range of products before they are shipped to markets across America and the world.


Without timely inspections, Alabama products, many of them perishable, miss their shipping deadlines. Perhaps there is nothing more important than the safety of our food supply, a responsibility we take very seriously.


Farm prices are at an all-time high. Farmers have an opportunity to actually earn a good profit after years of disappointing losses. It’s ironic that our department’s fiscal problems could hurt farmers at a time when so much is going their way.


When Governor Robert Bentley declared proration, the Department of Agriculture & Industries was told we must take a $2 million cut, representing 15% of our General Fund appropriation.


Anyone who has looked at our budget will tell you that this will seriously impair our ability to fulfill our legal duty to protect the food supply and serve the needs of agribusiness. Next year will be even worse as another 30% of our General Fund dollars will be cut.


For consumers whose only encounter with Alabama agriculture is grocery shopping, these cuts may seem irrelevant. But, when the safety of the food we buy is threatened, the problem becomes very real. Compound this with a potential loss of agribusiness jobs, and the situation has gone from one of passing interest to crisis.


Anticipating proration, we recently announced the closing of two Farmers Markets we own and operate in Montgomery. Taxpayers will save nearly $200,000 a year as we quit subsidizing these money-losing operations. As a result of the publicity from our closing the markets, people came forward with plans to lease the markets and keep them open.


Trimming our budget in other areas will not be as easy as we must come up with $2 million in additional savings. Unfortunately, our employees’ jobs are jeopardized and could well face layoffs, the extent of which could be severe.


Working with a team of professionals in the Department of Agriculture & Industries, I have examined our alternatives and come to the conclusion that fulfilling our core mission will be significantly impacted by the extent of this proration.


As an advocate of smaller, more efficient government, I have taken a critical look at every aspect of our department’s budget to justify every expenditure. You can be certain that we are working diligently to reduce waste and improve the department’s efficiency.


Due to attrition and the ongoing state hiring freeze, we have been short-staffed in many areas, including our regulatory divisions that protect consumers and enable agribusinesses. Our goal is to help our workers to become more productive, and have a number of solutions to achieve that.


We can and will adapt to these times of budget constraints. In fact, our Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries may come out of this fiscal crisis with a much stronger footing to serve the people and our state’s agribusiness.


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John McMillan is Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. He can be contacted at 334.240.7100, or


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