Agriculture is big business in Alabama. It’s the state’s top industry, a major employer for Alabama citizens and a leader in export markets.
And it’s more than you might think. Alabama’s agriculture industry comprises crop and livestock farms, food manufacturing and transportation, greenhouse and nursery businesses, forestry and lumber products, extension services, university and private industry research, and more.
Drive across the state, and you’ll notice the diversity among the farms that dot the landscape, from poultry houses in the north to cotton and peanut production in the south. Other top farm enterprises include beef cow-calf operations, freshwater catfish farms, soybeans and corn, wheat and hay production, peaches, sweet potatoes and pecans. All of these together make up more than 48,000 farms across Alabama, with a total 9 million acres in production.
The state’s food manufacturing industries add value to farm commodities through businesses that specialize in livestock processing, grain milling, food preserving and drink manufacturing. Many of the nation’s most-recognized brands are headquartered or manufactured in Alabama.
SEE MORE: Alabama Agriculture Overview Infographic
Often not thought of as agriculture, forestry is, in fact, a major agricultural commodity, especially in Alabama. More than 70 percent of the state’s land area is forested, and more than 90 percent of the forest land is privately owned. Forestry products, mostly timber and paper products, account for $19 billion in economic impact each year.
The state is also considered a leader in agriculture-related exports, due to its diverse ag industry and excellent rail and highway systems. Ag exports totaled more than $802 million in 2010, a growth of more than $250 million since 2006.
Also contributing to this success is the Port of Mobile, which was originally built with agriculture products in mind. Forestry products and poultry are the port’s third and fourth top exports each year, behind coal and steel. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries expects agricultural export markets to grow even more in the next five years, through new trade agreements and an increasing world population.
As Alabama’s top commodity, poultry comprises 68 percent of total commodity receipts. The state is home to broiler production (raising chickens for meat), laying flocks (for egg production) and hatcheries. Poultry represents nearly half of the state’s agriculture exports. Cullman, DeKalb and Marshall are the leading counties in poultry production.
Farm receipts in 2010 totaled $5.07 billion, an increase of 8 percent from the previous year. These receipts included livestock and poultry, crops, government agricultural payments and other farm-related income.
Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod
Alabama’s “green industry” has seen tremendous growth in the past 30 years and today, contributes nearly $3 billion to the state’s economy. It’s also a major employer for the state, with more than 43,000 Alabamians working in greenhouses, nursery operations and sod farms.
Cattle and Calves
As of Jan. 1, 2011, Alabama was home to 1.23 million head of cattle and calves. And during the year, the industry saw a 12 percent increase in the number of cattle marketed, reaching $395 million in cash receipts. The vast majority of cattle operations in Alabama are cow-calf farms.
2010 saw a slight decrease in total soybean acreage, but it’s still a top five commodity for Alabama. More than 345,000 acres were harvested last year, with an average yield of 26 bushels per acre. Soybeans are grown all across the state, but the top counties are Limestone, Jackson, Madison and Lawrence.
Once known as the “king” crop for Alabama, cotton is still an important commodity for the state. Primarily grown in the coastal plain region of the state, cotton is the fourth largest commodity and represents more than $126 million in exports. Alabama ranks 10th in national cotton production.