Red Angus Cow and Calf The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries serves primarily as the agency responsible for enforcing regulations regarding agricultural practice, resource sustainability, compliance with weights and measurement standards, and food safety. In addition, the department assists farmers and ranchers in improving production as well as ensuring the state’s consumers receive safe, quality agricultural products. It is headquartered in the Richard Beard Building in Montgomery, Montgomery County.
Agriculture in Alabama
Even prior to statehood in 1819, agriculture played a dominant role in Alabama’s economy and remains the largest economic sector in the state, generating tens of billions in revenue and employing hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. From the earliest days of agricultural production in the state, Alabama’s vast tracts of fertile land, excellent water sources and high rainfall, and temperate climate provided the necessary conditions to make Alabama a leading force the growing and processing of agricultural products. The presence of three land-grant universities (Alabama A&M University, Auburn University, and Tuskegee University), all with nationally recognized agricultural and forestry programs, greatly enhances the economic power of these resources through their research and development of improved methods of farming, breeding, testing, and sustainability.
Baldwin County Cotton Farm Alabama boasts a diverse agriculture sector, representing more than a dozen different commodity areas. These include beef cattle, dairy, poultry, pork, meat goats, horses, shrimp, and catfish, honey and bees; ornamental greenhouse, nursery, and landscape production; turf-grass, hay and forage; forestry, fruits and vegetables; and staple crops such as cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat, and feed grains. Of this vast array of commodities, the largest sector is the poultry industry, representing 65.6 percent of the state’s agricultural commodity sales. This is followed by the cattle and ornamental nursery industries. The forestry sector, comprised of forest products and commercial logging, is another major area that generates billions in revenue. This diversity ensures a thriving, sustainable agricultural sector, able to prolong its economic significance to Alabama as it has for more than 200 years.
ACES Canning Class The Alabama Department of Agriculture was created by the General Assembly of Alabama on February 23, 1883, and became operational on September 1, 1883. It was located at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College (present-day Auburn University) at Auburn, Lee County, and moved to Montgomery in 1886. The State Constitution of 1901 added “Industries” to the department’s title and created the Board of Horticulture and the State Livestock Sanitary Board to work with the renamed Department of Agriculture and Industries. Later years saw continued changes to the department, including the addition of the Division of Food, Drug, and Feeds and the Board of Agriculture in 1911. In 1915, the Division of Immigration and Markets was established to attract agriculture to the state and to market products to consumers. Around this time, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and renamed Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API, present-day Auburn University), the department began to conduct farm demonstrations, leading to the creation of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. The most sweeping changes to the department took place in 1923 with the passage of the Agricultural Code of Alabama. It established new divisions such as the State Board of Agriculture, Division of Weights and Measures, and the Clerical and Records Division. The law also restructured the Board of Horticulture into the Division of Plant Industry and created the Division of Agricultural Chemistry to replace the Food, Drug and Feeds Division.
In 1927, the code was revised, establishing a state laboratory at Auburn, and creating the Alabama Industrial Board. The final code revision to date was completed in 1940 and provided the department with increased responsibilities and authority. The result of these changes was a structure similar to what the department looks like today.
Office of the Commissioner
Reuben F. Kolb The Office of the Commissioner was created in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture in 1883, with Edward C. Betts serving as its first commissioner. He was appointed by the governor and was allotted an annual salary of $2,100. The legislature in 1884 authorized the commissioner two clerks and directed that he establish his office at Auburn. In addition to improving and expanding agriculture within the state, the primary role of the department at this time was regulating and selling fertilizer, the licensing fees for which funded the department. The commissioner was additionally tasked with attracting immigrants to the region to establish farms and develop the state’s agricultural industry. Betts served until 1887 and was succeeded by Reuben F. Kolb, a staunch advocate of improving the state’s agricultural industries. In 1888, Kolb established the Alabama on Wheels initiative, which aimed to attract white farmers from other parts of the nation to the state. Aimed at displacing black farmers during the New South Era, the initiative was a failure because of widespread public perceptions of the state as poor and violent and a lack of state funding. Kolb would serve a second term from 1911 to 1915. Arvell W. Todd served three terms—1955-59, 1963-67, and 1991-95—and was responsible for the rise of the poultry industry in the state and the establishment of milk and egg inspection standards.
In the ensuing years, several changes affected the position. In 1891, the legislature determined that the commissioner would be an elected position, rather than appointed by the governor. In the 1901 Alabama Constitution, lawmakers again changed how the position was administered, creating the foundation for the current process. They made the commissioner part of the executive department of the Alabama state government and an elected office with a term of four years. Elections are held during the federal midterm election cycle and elected commissioners are currently limited to two terms in office.
The commissioner’s primary role as head of the department is to promote economic and industrial development within the state of Alabama. He or she is responsible for determining the state’s industrial potential and collecting statistics on the agriculture and industry sectors. The commissioner is also responsible for oversight of the department’s 18 divisions and sections.
Peanut Mill in Eufaula The department consists of 18 divisions that each focus on specific areas. These divisions regulate many different areas including: overseeing the health of livestock and poultry, establishing and enforcing food safety regulations, enforcing laws relating to commercial weights and measures, overseeing agricultural pest control, and monitoring pesticide usage within the state. Agency operations are overseen by the Executive Division in conjunction with the Audits and Reports Division, Emergency Programs, and Legal Division. The Farmers Market Authority, Gins and Warehouses Division, and Livestock Market News assist growers and producers with marketing and providing storage for their produce. The Seed Lab, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, and Petroleum Commodities Divisions focus on specific commodity testing to ensure safety and compliance for both producers and consumers. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Alabama Federal-State Inspection Service inspects and audits the agricultural industry. The department also works with state associations, such as the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.
The Plant Protection Division assists growers with eradicating and managing pests and increasing yields. Pesticide Management regulates users and distributors of pesticides to ensure compliance in the use of chemicals and other pest-management methods. The Agricultural Compliance Division oversees the Stockyards and Brands function to ensure compliance with the Livestock Market Charter Application process. The Food Safety Division regulates and monitors foodstuffs to ensure safe and quality products for consumers. The Animal Industries Division conducts research and monitoring of livestock and poultry to ensure the overall safety of the food supply.
The Division of Weights and Measures ensures compliance of all commercial measurement devices in the state. This includes testing gas pumps to ensure they are not over- or under-charging for fuel and testing scanners and scales in stores and pharmacies to ensure they are calibrated and functioning properly. One of this division’s biggest challenges is having enough qualified certifiers to test these items throughout the state, including more than 100,000 gas pumps. Until recently, the department suffered from insufficient inspectors and a lack of a tracking system for all the systems in need of inspection. The department maintains a database for all systems across the state to greatly enhance its ability to manage this daunting task.
The agency employs several hundred regular employees and contract workers who perform duties at the department’s main office, conduct field work, and operate lab and testing facilities.