Alabama Farm Leaders Discuss Agriculture's Future
Auburn Farm leaders talked about their image, state economics and the environment recently at a roundtable discussion on agricultural development held at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby and a panel of other agricultural leaders from around the state focused on the theme "Building on the Past for a Brighter Future." The event was hosted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Auburn University College of Agriculture.
Newby said the Federation has helped share the farmers' message through its state-wide ad campaign, "Farming Feeds Alabama."
"We are working on our image," he said. "We recently sponsored a campaign telling people about farms, talking about technology and the farmer. Farmers are not about overalls and straw hats with a piece of straw in their mouth. They are businessmen."
Ed Dickinson, vice president and publisher of Progressive Farmer, said Alabama farmers must do what the Federation is doing - convince Alabamians that agriculture affects every facet of their daily lives.
"Many people today don't understand agriculture," Dickinson said. "We are faced with a general public that doesn't want to know that their meat at one time had bones in it, especially since Disney has made animals into fun bedtime creatures."
Dickinson said a poll taken in Jefferson County showed consumers are worried about food safety, especially regarding pesticides and antibiotic use in livestock.
"As long as consumers don't understand these issues, they will fear them," he said. "What they want to hear is that food is safe, food is healthy and farmers are the original environmentalists. And I think we are."
Newby said it's never too early to share that message. The Federation is already telling children about farmers by investing in Alabama's Ag in the Classroom program.
"We're going to have to get them while they're young," he said. "In the past, we have left the education of school children to the environmentalists. We have to show children that we live on farms and we care more about the environment than anyone else. We're looking at plans to raise money and get Ag in the Classroom in every class in Alabama."
Charles Bishop, state commissioner of agriculture, said farmers must demand aggressive leaders of integrity who will fight for agriculture in Alabama. He said science and technology will dictate the future, and rural Alabama must have a vision and be willing to change in order to succeed.
Marshall County Farmers Federation President Dan Smalley, who also serves as chairman of the board for Gold Kist Inc., stressed the importance of the agriculture development bonds, as well as trade with China for Alabama farmers.
Corky Pugh, director of wildlife and fresh water fisheries of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, urged farmers and land owners to capitalize on urban America's love of the outdoors and market their land and water for short-term hunting, fishing or wildlife watching excursions.
"Farmers and forest land owners hold the key to the gate for people who want to enjoy those things," Pugh said. "There's a lot of money to be made in this thriving wildlife economy. A growing number of farmers are realizing a significant potential of income by marketing some of their land for hunting day trips. Many people are looking for a one- or two-day hunting experience."
Newby and Smalley agreed their No. 1 wish for Alabama farmers is profitability. That will increase for all farmers as the state economy improves.
"What we ought to be working for is giving farmers and rural people a better way of life," Newby said. "That's what this organization was founded on."
Bishop said the Federation's commitment to farmers has been evident in its response to the drought currently plaguing south Alabama.
"When this drought started, first thing, ALFA called and said, 'We want to pledge our support to do anything we can to help the farmers,'" Bishop said. "I would like to publicly thank ALFA for that."
Newby said despite their problems, farmers have much to be thankful for in Alabama. "We have so many resources and people willing to try to help," he said. "We just need people to work together. It's very important that all of Alabama is made better in the future."