Alabama Commissioner Ron Sparks had the opportunity to speak before the Congressional Agriculture Committee at the Farm Bill Hearing held at Auburn University Feb. 7.

Sparks discussed many of the issues concerning farmers in Alabama such as the increasing decline in family farms in Alabama. Since the 1950s, the number of Alabama farms has dwindled from over 200,000 to about 45,000. “I believe that the decrease in farms is due to a lack of profitability experienced by many farmers,” said Sparks. “We have to find ways to help them not only to stay in business, but also improve their business.”

Sparks said that creating a better environment for farmers to do business might entice younger generations to get involved in agriculture. “The perception right now is that if you go into farming, you might end up barely getting by from year to year. Too many times that is the reality for Alabama farmers, especially after the last two hurricane seasons. I think we can help change that.”

Some of the suggestions made by Sparks were to create a safety net for farmers through subsidies, disaster relief programs, and low interest loans. “Some people think subsidies are a bad thing, but not only do they help keep farmers in business; they help keep the prices of our food and fiber low for Alabama consumers.”

Sparks also discussed the need for better child nutrition programs in Alabama and ways that the agriculture industry can help through programs like Farm to School and the Alabama Gleaning Network.

He stressed the importance of developing alternative fuels so that we no longer have to rely on foreign companies for all of our fuel sources.

Sparks expressed concern over some of our agricultural imports that come from countries who produce their food at lower standards than those required in the United States. “We have some of the best products in the world, yet we are competing with imported products that are sometimes not only substandard, but unsafe,” said Sparks.

“All of these things are important issues to today’s farmer in Alabama, but the most important point to understand is that we have to find ways to allow farmers to continue to farm,” said Sparks.