By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Farmers Federation celebrated 200 years of Alabama agriculture at its annual conference in Montgomery over the last three days. But the organization also talked a little politics and policy.
For instance, the Alabama Farmers Federation will be watching closely in 2020 legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama.
“If we’re going to have a medical marijuana product here, we’re going to ensure that Alabama farmers are the ones who are going to produce it,” Matthew Durdin, ALFA’s external affairs director, told Alabama Daily News during the organization’s annual meeting Monday. “That’s only fair to us.”
A commission created during the 2019 legislative session is now drafting a medical marijuana bill for session that begins in February.
Gov. Kay Ivey spoke at the annual event Monday night, mostly to thank the federation for its support in passing the Rebuild Alabama Act that increased the state’s gas tax in order to fund infrastructure needs.
“We would not have been successful in that effort had it not been for a strong organization like yours,” Ivey said. She said she looks forward to working with ALFA on other issues that affect farmers.
Infrastructure concerns are still a top legislative concern for ALFA, especially when it comes to rural broadband access, Durdin said.
“There are places just within 20 miles of Montgomery here that can’t run proper pieces of agriculture equipment because they don’t have the bandwidth to do it,” Durdin said.
Workforce development is another legislative topic Durdin says ALFA is working on, especially encouraging high school students to think about pursuing skilled trades or farming rather than a four-year college route.
Amid Alabama’s low unemployment rate, Durdin said finding farm laborers has been more difficult.
“Manual labor is always going to be hard to find, but it’s especially hard to find when you’ve got low unemployment rates,” Durdin said.
To try and bring more laborers into the state, initiatives on a federal level would have to be enacted, Durdin said. He said the federal H-2A temporary agricultural workers program that provides temporary working visas has helped some Alabama farmers find workers.
Durdin said the federation will oppose any lottery or gambling legislation brought forward, because it is against the group’s policy.
U.S. Senate candidate and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville thanked ALFA for its endorsement of him in September.
In his speech, Tuberville didn’t address specific policy ideas but instead spoke about what he considers to be the “fundamentals of this country.”
He thinks religion should have a more prominent place in schools and that America’s education system in general is a “disaster.”
Tuberville faces former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, state Rep. Arnold Mooney, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Session for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. That primary is in March. The winner faces Democrat incumbent Doug Jones in November.
Former U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, was the featured speaker Monday night, but his contract stipulated no press coverage of his speech.