Assistant ag commissioner speaks to Rotary

Published 5:01 pm Sunday, September 15, 2013

Glen Zorn, the assistant commissioner of Agriculture and Industries for the state of Alabama, was the guest speaker at the Atmore Rotary Club meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Zorn, the former mayor of Florala, spoke positively of the changes that Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan has made to the department since his election in November 2010. Zorn said that the state’s Agriculture Department cut its staff by more than 100 people, or about a quarter of its original workforce. As an example, he noted that the Weights and Measures Division was cut from 26 employees to five.

However, Zorn also said that the cuts did not affect the quality of services. He said the state did a remarkable job of consolidating services to make the government agency more efficient and effective.

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“We are stepping outside the box,” Zorn said. “Government agencies have got to learn how to partner together and how to consolidate.”

Zorn explained that agriculture is not only important for the entire state of Alabama, but also especially in Escambia County. He said Escambia is ranked No. 6 in the list of biggest agricultural economic impact by county. Also, about 50 percent of the county is employed in the agricultural industry, and agriculture is responsible for about 75 percent of the county’s economy.

He said that McMillan’s administration has turned an Agriculture Department deficit into a $5-million surplus. That surplus has allowed the department to make even more improvements, some of which hadn’t taken place for years.

As an example, Zorn noted that the state’s Seed Lab had not had any real upgrades in more than 30 years. He said that recently department officials met with major players in the seed industry to figure out ways to make the necessary improvements in the laboratory facility.

He also said the state’s agriculture department was able to work with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to set up a revolving fund to help provide loans to rural communities. If the program is a success, it could grow from $3 million to more than $15 million, at approximately $150,000 per loan.

“Our department probably touches just about everything that Alabamians do,” said Zorn, noting that the Weights and Measures Division is responsible for being sure all scales and measuring objects are fairly calibrated and functional. “If you pull out a tape measure in this state, it’s our responsibility to be sure that it’s accurate.”