Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the newly-sworn-in Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan. We had an opportunity to chat informally about the green industry in Alabama. He told me he grew up on a farm in Baldwin County. He worked on his uncle’s farm and his father’s sawmill and that was when he became interested in agriculture.
Commissioner McMillan and I were joined in the meeting by Assistant Commissioner, Glen Zorn; State Apiarist and head of the Plant Protection Unit, Dennis Barclift; and Communications Director, Christy Kirk.
The Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries is the most important job in the state because his department regulates virtually everything we consume from gasoline to catfish.
I asked the Commissioner just how big is the green industry. He said it represents a $5 billion dollar industry in Alabama with the nursery industry alone generating nearly $266 million dollars in sales, according to a 2009 study.
McMillan said, "Goals and objectives are forthcoming" for helping this industry grow.
He had met with our new Governor about the concerns for the Department of Agriculture. The Governor has indicated it will be necessary to declare proration which will include budget cuts for all state agencies including Agriculture and Industries and that could mean a budget cut of around $1.2 million dollars for the department. McMillan went on to say they were in the process of "cross-training and re-training employees so we can continue to meet the needs of the businesses depending on us to operate."
I asked the Commissioner what were his biggest concerns in the plant protection division.
"Being from Southwest Alabama, I have seen first hand the problems associated with invasive plant species like cogon grass. It is spreading north…. Because of its rapid movement, efforts to eradicate it in Alabama have stopped," he replied.
I put these questions out there to everyone:
Question: "Is there a plan to increase the number of plant inspectors?"
Barclift: "We are at full staff. We added four new inspectors last year, so we’re okay.
Question: "How many beekeepers do we have now?"
Commissioner: "We have 470 registered beekeepers in the state."
Question: "How do we watch for Africanized honeybees?"
Barclift: "We now have monitors on the borders of Georgia, Mississippi and Florida."
All in all, it was a nice teleconference and a pleasure meeting with everyone.
Assistant Commissioner Zorn added, "I am very excited to have been asked by Commissioner McMillan to stay on at the Department of Agriculture & Industries as Assistant Commissioner. We had a lot of opportunities to spend time together and get to know one another while on the road campaigning last year. We found we have very similar philosophies regarding agricultural issues. Commissioner McMillan understands the importance of agriculture, and we will work together closely to serve the industry and the people of Alabama. I will be working with the Alternative Fuels Program, the Pesticide Management Division, the Water Resources Program, the Plant Industry Section, and the Weights and Measures Division. I look forward to the work ahead of us."
Commissioner McMillan said he is looking forward to working with Home Grown Tomatoes in helping promote the Department of Agriculture. Home Grown Tomatoes is looking forward to this as well.
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