Almost from the first day he arrived in Alabama, Gary Lemme has considered it one of his top priorities to remind Alabamians of the economic engine in their midst.

He isn’t referring to high-tech industries such as ThyssenKrupp Steel in Mobile or Hyundai in Montgomery, but to the economic sector that has been the driving force of Alabama’s economy throughout almost 200 years of statehood: agriculture, forestry and related industries.

One of the initial impressions this Minnesota-born agronomist gained from traveling throughout the state was the understated presence of agriculture and forestry — a radical change from the upper Midwest, where he has spent most of his adult life working as an agronomy professor and agriculture college dean.

“Traveling through Alabama, you don’t always notice the huge presence of agriculture,” says Lemme, who now serves as the director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“We don’t have miles upon miles of open fields as they do in much of the Midwest, and those clean modern buildings associated with poultry production tend to be located away from major highways,” he says.

Having studied up on Alabama’s economy and history after his arrival, Lemme knew that agriculture’s and forestry’s reach was immense, just understated and, consequently, misunderstood.

Lemme was determined not only to demonstrate agriculture and forestry’s enormous but understated presence but also its enduring influence and, most important of all, its immense potential.

He enlisted the help of Auburn University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology to undertake a study of the size and reach of Alabama’s forestry and agriculture sector.

What these researchers learned from an extensive study of more than 90 industries associated with this sector is compiled in a report titled “Economic Impacts of Alabama’s Agricultural, Forestry and Related Industries.”

“Many Alabamians don’t know the impact of this industry — how many dollars are actually generated by this sector of the economy,” says Deacue Fields, an Extension economist and Auburn University associate professor of agricultural economics who assisted with the study.