The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries was created as the Department of Agriculture by a legislative act sponsored by State Senator Hiram Hawkins of Barbour County that was passed on February 23, 1883. The Act designated that the Department would become operational on September 1, 1883.
The Department’s headquarters were originally located in Auburn in the Main Building of the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Auburn University). In 1886, the Department moved to the Capitol in Montgomery.
When the Department was first established, its staff consisted of the Commissioner and his clerk. The first Commissioner of Agriculture was Edward C. Betts of Madison County. The first Commissioner was appointed by the Governor for a term of two years at an annual salary of $2,100.
In its early years the Department’s main responsibility was to regulate the sale and distribution of fertilizer. The Department was allocated no monies by the State Legislature, but instead operated on monies taken in by licensing the sale and distribution of fertilizer.
In 1891, the Legislature established that the Commissioner of Agriculture would be elected by popular vote rather that appointed by the Governor.
The adoption of the 1901 Constitution brought two changes to the Department. The designation “and Industries” was added to the Department’s title and the length of the Commissioner’s term was changed from two to four years.
In 1907, the Legislature established two Boards to work with the Department of Agriculture and Industries and its Commissioner. One was the State Board of Horticulture which was charged with encouraging horticulture pursuits, inspecting and licensing nurseries, and controlling and eradicating fungus, diseases, and pests. The other was the State Livestock Sanitary Board which was charged with the major responsibility of protecting the health of the State’s livestock. The main concern of this early Board was to conduct a cattle tick eradication program. This Board was headed by the Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Auburn. This individual held the title of State Veterinarian.
In 1911, the Legislature charged the Department with regulating commercial feedstuffs, and the Department organized a Division of Food, Drug, and Feeds. A Board of Agriculture was also created to conduct county farm demonstration work. This program was conducted in conjunction with the USDA and the Extension Service in Auburn and was the forerunner of what we now know as the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.
In 1915, the Legislature imposed upon the Commissioner the duty of supervising and regulating the farm produce business and the major responsibility of aiding and encouraging immigration to Alabama of those seeking investments or homesteads.
To carry out these responsibilities, a Division of Immigration and Markets was established. This Division published the first edition of a newsletter called the Alabama Markets Journal in January of 1916. This publication which listed buyers and sellers and their products has since evolved into the popular Alabama Farmers and Consumers Bulletin.
In 1923, the Alabama Legislature passed an important Act that served as the basic legislative foundation of the modern Department and its activities. The Act, known as the “Agricultural Code of Alabama”, established a new State Board of Agriculture which would serve as the controlling authority for the re-organized Department of Agriculture and Industries. It abolished the old Board of Agriculture. It also did away with the old Board of Horticulture and Livestock Sanitary Board and transferred their responsibilities to the Commissioner of Agriculture and the Department. The Act set up the basic framework for the organization of the Department as we know it today.
The 1923 Act set up the Department as follows:
- Division of Agricultural Chemistry – took the place of Food, Drug and Feeds Division, and regulated the bee industry
- Division of Plant Industry – took over Board of Horticulture activities
- Division of Weights and Measures – inspection and regulation of measures devices and weights used in commercial transactions
- Clerical and Records Division – handled administrative functions of the Department
The Board of Agriculture also oversaw the works of the State Veterinarian at Auburn, the Soil Survey work which was being conducted in cooperation with the Federal Government, and the County Agent work being conducted by the Extension Service.
Shortly after the enactment of the 1923 Code, its validity was attacked by one of the Department’s regulatory customers. The Alabama Supreme Court heard the case and eventually ruled in favor of the Board of Agriculture, upholding the validity of the Code and the Commissioner’s and Department’s powers.
In 1924, a cooperative agreement was set up with the U.S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the USDA for a Crop and Livestock Reporting Service. During this year the Department also became more active in promoting industrial growth in Alabama.
In 1925, a Division of Publications and Industry was established to handle the increased amount of reports and newsletters that were being produced by the Department and to publish an “Alabama Handbook” which promoted the State for industrial growth and immigration. During this year, the Market News Service was established in conjunction with the USDA. Its early reports were published daily in the Mobile Register.
By 1926, the Department had gotten too large for its space in the State Capitol and relocated to a separate building at 515 Dexter Avenue.
In 1927, the Agricultural Code of Alabama was revised and rewritten and enacted by the Alabama Legislature. The new Code left the basic organization of the Department as the same, but added additional responsibilities and enforcement powers. During the same year, a state laboratory was established at Auburn under the direction of the State Chemist. The new Code also set up the Alabama Industrial Board which would oversee the efforts of the Industry Section of the Department in its efforts to attract industrial development to Alabama.
In 1940, the State of Alabama underwent an overall Code revision. A newly written Alabama Agricultural Code further increased the responsibilities and authority of the Department and gave the Commissioner the authority to organize the Department as he saw fit as long as he maintained the basic foundation of the Department.
In the years since the final Code revision, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has expanded and taken on new responsibilities under its own power. The increased growth necessitated the construction of a large and modern facility to house the Department.
In November of 1972, the Department moved into the modern Richard Beard Building, named for then Commissioner Beard, next to the Garrett Coliseum on Federal Drive.The spacious modern facility houses offices for the Commissioner and all divisions, as well as Food and Drug, Agricultural Chemical, and Petroleum laboratories. In addition, the Department maintains a Pesticide Lab and Animal and Plant Diagnostic Labs at Auburn, Diagnostic Labs in Elba and Albertville, an aflatoxin lab in Dothan, and shipping point inspection stations throughout the State.
Today’s Department, operating with a budget of under $25 million, employs 300 full-time and over 250 part-time workers who carry out regulatory and promotional responsibilities that touch the lives of all Alabamians.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been serving Alabama farmers and consumers for over 120 years. It’s Commissioner and employees look forward to providing expanded and improved services in the years ahead.