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November 20, 2007   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
November 20, 2007

Commissioner Ron Sparks
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Ron Sparks, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, will receive the Alabama Farmers Federation's highest award at its 86th annual meeting Dec. 1-3 in Mobile. The event, to be held in the Mobile Civic Center, is expected to draw about 1,500 members from across the state.

A native of Fort Payne who has served as the state's agriculture commissioner since 2003, Sparks will be receiving the Federation's Service to Agriculture Award for his efforts in raising public awareness of the role Alabama farmers play in helping feed, clothe and shelter America.

Jerry A. Newby, president of the 450,000-member Alabama Farmers Federation, said Sparks has helped Alabamians better understand the issues affecting agriculture in Alabama and the need to maintain a safe food supply.

"Commissioner Sparks led the nation in raising awareness of the need to increase testing of imported seafood," Newby said. "He led the charge to change our dependency on fossil fuel by encouraging the growth and exploration of fuels from renewable sources, and he's increased foreign trade with personal visits to foreign countries that are now buyers of Alabama products."

In selecting "Today's Promise, Tomorrow's Strength" as the theme of this year's annual meeting, the Alabama Farmers Federation -- an affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) -- will mark the climax of a year-long tribute to the 50th anniversary of its Young Farmers program.

The program, which got its start as the Farm Bureau Young People on Jan. 7, 1957, has helped develop scores of leaders for Alabama agriculture, including Newby, who chaired the program in 1977, and several past and present members of the Federation's Board of Directors.

Newby will give his annual address to the membership during the three-day event, which will draw 500 voting delegates from throughout Alabama to elect Federation officers and state board members.

Also on the agenda will be the Young Farmers' Excellence in Agriculture Contest and the Young Farmers' Discussion Meet. The winners will receive $500 cash from Dodge and matching awards from the Farmers Federation. The winners will represent Alabama at the AFBF Annual Meeting in New Orleans in January. First South Farm Credit will sponsor the Excellence in Agriculture winner's trip to New Orleans for the national contest, while the Farmers Federation will sponsor the trip for the Discussion Meet winner.

During Sunday morning's session, the Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) for 2007 will be named from a field of six finalists who were honored earlier this year. The winning couple will participate in many activities promoting Alabama agriculture across the state during the coming year. They will receive a new John Deere Gator sponsored by Federal Land Bank, the use of a 2008 Dodge Nitro for a year, an IBM computer package from ValCom Business Centers of Alabama, a voucher for $500 in Valvoline products and $500 cash from Dodge. The winning family will also go on to compete nationally for the AFBF's Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award at the AFBF Annual Meeting.

Other activities during the Alabama Farmers Federation's 86th Annual Meeting will include an agricultural issues briefing, the women's luncheon, a county awards program and the presentation of the Federation's Communications Award.

Reigning Miss Alabama Agriculture Elizabeth Grimes of Dallas County will crown her successor at the Miss Agriculture Pageant. Forty-six contestants from across the state will compete for the title during the annual meeting with the winner crowned during the final general session the evening of Dec. 3. The winner receives a year's use of a 2008 Dodge Avenger and a $2,000 scholarship. Talent finalists will compete in the Talent Find competition, and a state winner will be chosen at Saturday's opening session. The winner will receive a $1,000 cash award.

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