By Marlee Moore
Improving farmers’ bottom line.
That’s why the Alabama Farmers Federation has invested in marketing, research and supporting policy for commodities since its inception in 1921.
In the early days, the Federation marketed mainstream commodities such as cotton and milk. The goal? Help farmers get better prices. Marketing associations were added for hay, hogs, grain and more.
The Federation’s first official commodity group was established for dairy in 1950. As production shifted and farmers diversified, other divisions were added. The Pork Division was born in ’67; the Forestry Division was created in ’72; and the Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Division put down roots in ’98.
Today, 15 commodity divisions comprise the Federation’s Governmental & Agricultural Programs Department: bee & honey; beef; catfish; cotton; dairy; equine; forestry; greenhouse, nursery & sod; hay & forage; sheep & goat; soybean; pork; poultry; wheat & feed grain; and wildlife. Three affiliated organizations also represent producers: Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, Alabama Peanut Producers Association and Alabama TREASURE Forest Association.
Early leaders knew commodity divisions were a key pathway for leadership development. For a century, farmers have initiated involvement to further their business interests — and stayed after realizing their impact.
The Federation is a grassroots organization; leadership rises from the counties. This structure and vision has improved commodities grown in Alabama — and the lives of farmers who grow them.
Examples include the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, spearheaded by the Cotton Division in 1987. Other highlights are developing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulations in 1999, most recently revised with guidance from the Poultry Division in 2020; passing a bill requiring labeling of catfish served in restaurants, led by the Catfish Division in 2009; and increasing federal funding to combat feral swine with a $75 million allocation in the 2018 farm bill.
Federation staff members help oversee seven checkoffs — catfish, cotton, peanut, pork, sheep and goat, soybean, and wheat and feed grain. Federation members and farmer-leaders help allocate the funds.
These checkoffs fund research, promotion and education and have paid incredible dividends for farmers. For example, peanut yields were around 1,000 pounds an acre in 1952. After research ramped up in 1957, Alabama peanut producers now average 3,500 pounds an acre.
As Federation membership grew, leaders envisioned an annual pre-harvest conference for tours, educational sessions and presentations. Now called the Farm & Land Expo, this event began in 1973 and is held annually in late summer at rotating locations across Alabama and neighboring states.
The October 1973 Alabama Farm Bureau News said it best:
“A most important conference it was, where over 500 of our own farmers gathered…and numerous speakers discussed various phases of the theme ‘Food and Fuel for the Future.’”
A deeper dive into individual commodity highlights will be featured in December’s commemorative issue of Neighbors magazine.