The nation’s top agriculture official was in west Alabama Aug. 12 awarding grants to rural communities and talking to farmers about issues ranging from overbearing environmental regulations to foreign trade.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, flanked by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, announced $4.9 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture economic development projects in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
“The investments USDA is announcing in Alabama are vital to protect public health and safety and improve the economic well-being of the state’s rural residents,” Vilsack said. “USDA is proud to work with Alabama’s state and local leaders to make these projects a reality.”
Sewell said the grants will help make needed improvements for her district, and while economic development is critical, she said it’s important to remember the district’s agricultural roots.
“Farming is a big part of my district,” she said. “It’s our state’s largest industry. We want to do everything we can to promote agriculture here and to help our farmers continue to be successful and to create new opportunities.”
Following a town hall meeting in Linden, Vilsack and Sewell visited Kyser Catfish Farm in Greensboro where catfish were being harvested. They met with several west Alabama catfish farmers at the farm owned by Bill and Beverly Kyser and their sons, Ashley and Townsend.
A major topic of the discussion was foreign fish imports, which are seldom inspected when they enter the U.S. Foreign fish are often produced under standards outlawed in America. Vilsack pledged to seek increased inspections of fish entering the U.S.
“I really tried to humanize our catfish farm when I was talking to Secretary Vilsack,” said Bill Kyser, an Alabama Farmers Federation State Catfish Committee member. “Our farm is a business, but it’s a family farm. There are a lot of families just like mine who work hard to make a living farming.”
Other issues farmers discussed with the secretary included funding for research and research facilities, pressure from predatory birds and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.
Bill Kyser said he appreciated Congresswoman Sewell’s role in bringing the secretary to meet the catfish farmers and others in her district.
“Rep. Sewell has always been a big supporter of agriculture and especially catfish farmers,” he said. “The entire catfish industry appreciates everything she has done to help.”
Federation Catfish Director Rick Oates said meeting with the secretary was rare for farmers.
“It’s not every day a farmer gets to talk directly to the secretary of agriculture,” Oates said. “It was an opportunity for the secretary to see how a real catfish farm operates and to hear directly from farmers about their concerns.”