By Marlee Moore
Rural Alabama is poised to benefit from a new initiative cultivating long-term, sustainable economic growth through agricultural investments.
The AgTech Initiative received a boon through a $500,000 appropriation from the Alabama Legislature to implement their three-pronged strategy in 2023.
“Our goal is to identify Alabama’s real, meaningful strengths that many people can intuitively mention but don’t have the numbers to back up,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). “From a statistical perspective, we need that validation to bring business to the state, permeate through the rest of our strategy and help the people of Alabama.”
EDPA is tasked with implementing AgTech Initiative strategies: to confirm agriculture and forestry’s economic impact, address gaps in the agricultural supply chain and commercialize agriculture-related technologies in Alabama.
“Economic opportunities are tremendous today,” said Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries Rick Pate. “We need to open our eyes and see these things that we can capitalize on and improve to help our farmers and agribusinesses.”
Throughout the next year, EDPA will work with partner organizations to conduct an economic impact study of agriculture and forestry; the last study, conducted in 2012, showed the industries’ impact was over $70 billion annually.
It’s critical to confirm those numbers have risen, even as farmers battle labor shortages and rising input costs, said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. The Chilton County cattle farmer, whose family is also in the timber business, said the state’s strength is found in its grassroots.
“Agriculture and forestry are in all 67 counties. We think that’s important,” Parnell said. “A lot of our counties are losing population, we have a few growing amazingly, and then some are stagnant. It’s incredibly important for us to bring growth to rural parts of the state, and we believe ag and forestry is how to achieve that goal. This is a step in that direction.”
The AgTech Initiative will also delve into the forces driving revenue in rural communities and discover ways to enhance existing agribusinesses through technology, infrastructure investments and innovative labor solutions.
Findings should be available in 2024.