Ag impact ‘strong’ force

Published 9:05 pm Friday, June 28, 2013

Forests and cotton fields provide a beautiful landscape in Escambia County, but according to information released in an Auburn University and Alabama Cooperative Extension System study, those trees and cotton plants provide jobs and stability for the county as well as the state.

Alabama basks in a $70.4 billion economic impact from agriculture, forestry and related industries in the state according to the study. That impact is partially due to the $1.5 billion impact Escambia County adds to the mix. The county’s total economic activity was estimated at $2.4 billion with the forestry economic contribution accounting for nearly 60 percent of the total monetary impact on the county.

Escambia County ranked first in the state in cotton production contributing 16.4 percent of the county’s total agricultural and forestry production making it the second largest agricultural crop.

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Ken Kelley, local extension agent, said the agricultural strength of the county is a significant contribution to the overall state numbers.

“We are a strong agricultural county and we’ll always be in the top four or five in the state with cotton and peanuts,” Kelley said.

The county ranked fourth in peanut production contributing 15.7 percent of total production making peanuts the county’s third largest agricultural commodity, according to the research information.

“We have some good peanut buying facilities in the county and the peanut production is growing,” Kelley said. “The peanut production really kicked in 10 to 15 years ago and continues to grow.”

The indirect business taxes impact was $46.5 million — 63.6 percent of the county’s total indirect business taxes.

“We have a great farming community and farm association in this county,” Kelley said. “Our acreage flips some each year, so the numbers may change a little. That’s because we have good farmers who rotate crops to increase production year after year.”

According to the study, Escambia County’s timberland accounts for 77.7 percent of the surface land area of the county with total forestry production adding 26.3 percent of the county’s total agriculture and forestry production.

Escambia County’s agricultural, forestry and related industries generated 9,510 full- and part-time jobs and accounted for 53.9 percent of the county’s total workforce with 17, 649 jobs in 2010, the latest year included in the research.

Leigha Cauthen, executive director of the Alabama Agribusiness Council, said the study will bring attention to the state’s agricultural and forestry industries.

“This will be a useful tool in bringing much-deserved attention to agriculture and forestry and how critical those industries are to our local economies,” Cauthen said. “Statewide, the impact of these industries is tremendous, but this new information really hits home with county impacts. In many counties, agriculture and related industries account for more than half of all jobs.”

In Escambia County 112,950 acres are dedicated to farmland in 502 farms.

Timberland in the county makes up 471,583 acres of dedicated acreage to the industry.

Top industry groups in the county are agriculture, forestry and related industries followed by manufacturing and government- related services with total employment at 17,649 based on survey results.