State agriculture commissioner visits county
Franklin County Probate Judge and county commission chairman Barry Moore led Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan through the county recently, emphasizing the importance that agriculture plays here.
State officials toured the Pilgrim’s Pride processing plant and other area industries as McMillan, who was elected to his first term in 2010, made his first stop in the county since taking office.
McMillan said his office has managed seven “distinct crises” since taking office, including the devastating tornadoes that hit Franklin County and many other areas of the state on April 27, 2011.
The crises include proration, a drought and a new statewide immigration policy that has affected the workforce of a number of farmers.
“The tornadoes that you saw here in north Alabama were something we’ve never dealt with before,” he said.
McMillan said millions of chickens were killed during the storms, which took a toll on the poultry industry throughout Alabama.
In one of the first moves of his term, the commissioner of agriculture’s office was forced to cut about 100 of the 400 employees in the department.
To help alleviate some of the issues involved with operating with a reduced staff, McMillan said the department is using more modern technology and privatization of certain programs as means of dealing with issues.
He said he also finds himself at a loss when asked about the state’s new immigration law, which has hit the farming industry hard.
“I don’t know what to tell people to do,” he said. “People call our office and say, ‘We’ve lost this,’ and we don’t know what to tell them.
“It’s painful to see people in such a quandary about what to do with their crops, and not have an answer.”
McMillan, who is a native of Baldwin County and is a former state representative and Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the immigration issue has hurt the state’s ability to grow.
“I hope we can get something worked out soon. It’s hard to promote any crops right now, because we’re so heavily impacted by the lack of labor.”
Moore said McMillan’s visit gave the commissioner an idea of what the county has available and the potential that lies within the production and industrial fields.
“We have a lot going for us here in Franklin County,” Moore said.
“We have had our challenges, especially this past year with the tornado and the recovery and re-building process, but Franklin County has plenty of great things going for it. I think Commissioner McMillan’s visit allowed him to see that. But, it also made him aware of the areas that we need help.
“I think a lot can come from this visit. We are always looking to work with our state and federal representatives whenever we can.”