By Debra Davis
The Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA) held its annual conference and trade show in Clanton Nov. 15-16 where 250 attendees heard from industry leaders, elected officials and university & Extension professionals.
“It was exciting to see the fruit and vegetable farmers from across Alabama come together for this event,” said AFVGA Executive Director Hunter McBrayer. “It was an educational opportunity for Alabama farmers to learn the most up-to-date industry information, and it gave our farmers a chance to take a break from the farm, reflect on issues from the previous year, and find better ways to provide food for their customers. Most importantly, they had the chance to gather with old friends and make new ones.”
AFVGA supports family farms and local food systems through education and support services. The organization participates in specialty crop policy and advocacy on the state, regional and national levels and helps enhance marketing and promotion of Alabama specialty crops.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell spoke during the conference. He said Alabama’s horticulture industry is a bright spot in Alabama’s farm economy but obstacles like reliable seasonal workers present challenges for farmers.
“We will continue to work with our elected officials in Washington on your behalf to try to work out a solution and remove those obstacles,” Parnell said.
Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner-elect Rick Pate also spoke to farmers during the conference and promised his agency will be farmer friendly.
“As a former small-business man, I understand the department’s role should be to help you, not get in your way,” said Pate, who takes office in January. “We have some outstanding employees in the department who work hard every day to make our state better.”
Other luncheon speakers included Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s (ACES) Specialist and Commercial Horticulture Team Leader Dr. Ayanava Majumdar who updated growers on Extension outreach and research; Alfa Insurance Company’s Torey Elmore; and Alabama TREAUSRE Forest Executive Director William Green.
AFVGA outstanding leaders and volunteers were honored with awards during the luncheon, which also included scholarship presentations. Auburn University (AU) horticulture students Dylan Teel of Clanton and Bryant Byrd of Detroit, Alabama, received $1,000 scholarships. Both are seniors with a focus on fruit and vegetable production.
Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s Jim Allen received the AFVGA Partner of the Year award for his support and influence of the organization.
Dr. Paul Mask received AFVGA’s Service to Horticulture Award for his leadership, vision and direction of ACES and his work with horticulture farmers across Alabama. Mask is the retired associate dean of the AU College of Agriculture and assistant director of Extension.
Mobile County’s Ken Buck was honored with the Exceptional Achievement Award for his work in promoting horticulture and his service to fruit and vegetable organizations on the county and state level.
Former AFVGA executive director Mac Higginbotham, who now serves as AFF’s Area 3 Organization director, was recognized for his leadership of AFVGA and his help in merging the organization with the Federation.
AFVGA officers for 2019 were elected at the meeting. They are President Taylor Hatchett of Chilton County; First Vice President Joe Lambrecht of Elmore County; Second Vice President Jimmy Witt of Blount County; and northern directors Wade Whited of Blount County, Larry LouAllen of Lawrence County and Dr. Arlie Powell of Chilton County.