The new director of Alabama's Cooperative Extension System, Gary Lemme, told nearly 200 farmers gathered in Birmingham for the Commodity Organization Conference that one of his priorities for this year is to complete a comprehensive study of agriculture's economic impact in Alabama.
"You are an important part of our economy, and you are an important part of the food security of this world," said Lemme during a luncheon for the Alabama Farmers Federation county commodity leaders.
The study, he said, will include both county-level and statewide data related to farm production, jobs and ag-related industries.
Lemme, who became director of the Extension System Oct. 1, is a native of Minnesota and previously held teaching and research positions with South Dakota State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Hawaii and the University of Nebraska.
"Today is a celebration of partnerships. It is a partnership that has benefited Alabama agriculture and the people of Alabama," Lemme said.
The partnership that brings together producers, agribusiness leaders and public research facilities like Auburn University and Alabama A&M University has benefited rural communities and the overall economy, Lemme said.
In addressing the farmers, Lemme vowed to provide Alabama's farm community the education, research and advice it needs to prosper.
"I pledge that we will provide science-based information in an unbiased manner that is responsive to your needs," Lemme added.
The new director noted that agricultural research and outreach are not only important to the economic vitality of the region, but also the safety and security of America. An illustration of this principle, he said, is the fact that recent uprisings in Africa and the Middle East were first prompted by food shortages.
"Hungry people are not peaceful people," he said.
In emphasizing the importance of having reliable economic data about Alabama agriculture, Lemme encouraged the farmers at the conference to join with Extension in communicating about the importance of agriculture.
"We need to tell our story to our policymakers and to our neighbors because they sometimes forget the economic impact you are having in their communities," Lemme said.
During the luncheon, the Federation honored outgoing state commodity committee members for their years of service.
The honorees included: Tim Whitley of Blount County, Beef Committee; Bill Easterling of Barbour County, Catfish Committee; John Farrow of Tallapoosa County, Catfish Committee; Tim Mullek of Baldwin County, Cotton Committee; Charlie Speake of Russell County, Cotton Committee; and Joe Hall of Henry County, Pork Committee.