By Kristen Bowman
The year was 1921, and Luther Duncan had a great idea. But he needed help. The Alabama Extension Service director needed farmers, bankers and business leaders from across the state to work consistently and cohesively in the interest of Alabama’s agricultural industry. They needed to work together on behalf of farmowners and landowners in a way that amplified their voices on state and national levels.
A group met in January of that year at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University (AU), to form the Alabama Farm Bureau. The group is now known as the Alabama Farmers Federation or by the name of its affiliated insurance company, Alfa®.
“Our purpose is very much still the same as it was when we originally started: To help farmers increase profitability on their farms through education, research and marketing,” said Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan.
That’s where the missions of Alfa and AU’s College of Agriculture, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022, have a natural overlap.
For more than 100 years, Alfa has supported Auburn — and the College of Agriculture in particular — through scholarships, fundraising, infrastructure, marketing and more. A physical sign
of the support is evident at the Alfa Pavilion at Ag Heritage Park. The pavilion was originally designed to honor Alabama farmers and their contributions by providing a gathering space for activities and events at the state’s largest land-grant institution.
There are innumerable, intangible ways Alfa has worked in the college’s interest over the years. For example, the successful Boll Weevil Eradication Program wasn’t successful for free; Farm Bureau lobbied for those funds. It also had a hand in garnering support for
the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory on Auburn’s campus. And longtime Federation President Edward Asbury O’Neal traveled to Washington, D.C., befriended President Franklin D. Roosevelt and had a major impact on developing New Deal farm policies.
“There are a number of challenges and opportunities we’ve taken on together,” Pinyan said. “We’re still doing this today. Now that looks like lobbying for space technology that benefits farmers, plant breeding, genomics research and these kinds of things the government funds through the National Science Foundation.”
Alfa has supported College of Agriculture faculty research to improve profitability of the state’s farmers and has funded campus facilities for that work. The organization supports its Alfa Endowed Scholar, Dr. Mykel Taylor, an ag economist.
The Federation also had a hand in helping bring Auburn’s livestock judging team back to campus after a decades-long hiatus.
College of Agriculture Dean Paul Patterson said the support Alfa provides is vital to the college’s success.
“Auburn’s College of Agriculture and the Alabama Farmers Federation have very similar missions in serving the farmers and agricultural communities of our state, so we have been close partners over the past century,” Patterson said. “Throughout its history, Alfa has been vital to this state through its support, outreach and advocacy
for farms, farming families and rural communities. We are proud to share so much of our history with them.”
Pinyan said his hope for the relationship between the two entities over the next 150 years is “to continue the common vision.”
“We need to continually position our farmers to compete in global markets during trying times,” he said. “We have challenges ahead of us, and Alabama farmers are looking to the experts at the college to help them be competitive and thrive.”