Narrator: It’s time for a new edition of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny. On the show today with the guys, John McMillan, Commissioner of Ag and Industries for the great state of Alabama, Jack Gabriel with Southeastern Estates, Rick Bourne with Southeastern Land Group, Chris Wood with Pond Pro, Ben Elliot with Alabama Ag Credit, and, of course, the Wild Man himself, Tim Baker. Sit on back, relax, and enjoy a new edition of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny.
Jonathan Goode: Hey, everybody. Welcome to The Land Show with Dave and Johnny. We appreciate you tuning in with us this second Saturday of the new year, and my good friend Dave Milton’s running a little behind this morning. I think he knows that the show’s supposed to start at 9:00 AM, but, Dave, have you got a good excuse for running behind this morning?
Dave Milton: Hey, don’t make me write sentences when I get there, Johnny.
Jonathan Goode: That’s right. You may have detention today.
Dave Milton: Yeah, I’m hauling as fast as I can, so I hope none of the troopers out there are listening.
Jonathan Goode: Well, what’s going on, man? What happened this morning?
Dave Milton: Well, my wife’s driving our … I’ve got a fleet of old vehicles. I’ve got four college-age kids and that’s a challenge in keeping all our vehicles going. We do have a spare, an old Dodge Durango that we kind of keep in the hopper there when we need it when one’s in the shop. Anyway, I had the jump the Durango off this morning because my wife sent me back to get that old thing running, but the reason was an interesting story. A State Farm Insurance rep told me they never heard of this and it is interesting. It’s not really land-based, but it’s funny, I thought. You just got to laugh it hurts so much. My daughter Claire’s a sophomore at Auburn University. Doing real well. We’re proud of her and she called me last night and the radiator … She thought the radiator hose blew. I went to meet her and there something that was broken and I couldn’t fix it. The plastic part, the plastic to affix the hose. Get it towed to the Toyota place there for her vehicle and we go back to our farm outside of Auburn to take Claire back to where she lives there in the dormitory. Get a call from the tow truck driver and he says, “Mr. Milton, your vehicle has been hit.” I’m thinking, “Well, how did my vehicle get hit? It’s on your tow truck.” I didn’t really notice, but it was one of those tow trucks where the front end hangs off the back. A kid and … All these young folks texting and driving. This young kid was texting and driving and rear-ended the front end of my daughter’s Subaru hanging off the back of the tow truck.
Jonathan Goode: Oh, no.
Dave Milton: I’ve been trying to issue a claim with his State Farm. It’s his fault and he admits it that he was texting and driving. But you’re trying to explain to the State Farm person that your vehicle was hit, nobody was in it, it was on a tow truck.
Jonathan Goode: Right.
Dave Milton: State Farm agent said ‘I’ve never heard that before.’ Been dealing with that. That’s why I’m late, Johnny. I’ve got a good excuse.
Jonathan Goode: Well, I think one of those insurance companies, I don’t remember which one it is, but they said they’ve seen a thing or to, and I think they’re going to have to add yours to the list.
Dave Milton: Well, that’s a unique one. That may have happened a couple times, but sometimes it just hurts so bad you laugh and thank God nobody was hurt. Thank God I had insurance, and so any time things like that happen you just got to thank God for all the good things. It could be a whole lot worse.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. Well, good deal. Well, man, make your way safely on in here to the studio. We’ll keep the show going and we’ll keep your seat warm when you get here.
Dave Milton: Well, good deal, man. I’m excited about our first guest. We’ve got a big one coming up.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah, Dave. I’m excited right now. For the last time, we get to have Commissioner John McMillan on. Our commissioner of Alabama’s Ag and Industries. He’ll be assuming his new role as the state treasurer next week, but-
Dave Milton: I’m glad I made it in studio to be here.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. Good to have you in. Well, Commissioner McMillan, thank you so much for being on The Land Show with us today.
John McMillan: Well, thank you all. It’s always great to visit with you, and I appreciate the opportunity.
Jonathan Goode: Yes, sir.
Dave Milton: Yes, sir.
Jonathan Goode: Well, we are … You are steadily approaching your new role as the state treasurer. When do you officially assume that position?
John McMillan: 12:01 next Tuesday morning.
Jonathan Goode: Okay. Great. Is there a swearing in process for that?
John McMillan: There is. The governor and all the other constitutional officers will be sworn in on Inaugural Day next Monday.
Jonathan Goode: Okay. Well, that’s exciting. Well, thank you so much for your service to the state of Alabama. How long have you been in the role there as Ag Commissioner?
John McMillan: Well, come Monday it’ll be eight years.
Jonathan Goode: Okay, so two good terms.
John McMillan: Two terms. Incidentally, all of our constitutional offices in Alabama are limited to two four-year terms.
Dave Milton: Oh, yeah.
Jonathan Goode: Well, I know … I think Commissioner Pate’s going to do an outstanding job coming in. I know he had your blessing coming in and let’s think back over the previous eight years. What have been some of the most memorable issues that you face? People don’t understand how much is involved under the purview of the Commissioner of Ag and Industries. I mean, you cover so much stuff. What are some of the most memorable things that you’ve dealt with?
John McMillan: Well, I think the most significant thing’s that we had initially with proration and then subsequent budget cuts. Our general fund appropriation was cut 45% the first year and a half we were here, so that meant that we lost almost 25% of our employees. You might as well say 25%. That was a very difficult time for everybody and, certainly, me included. But then we went on and I’m not … That’s certainly not something I’m proud of, but it’s something that we had to deal with.
Jonathan Goode: Sure.
John McMillan: In addition to that, dealing with that same amount of cuts we also had to come up with 1.8 million dollars for a new roof and a new HVAC system and some of those kind of things. We had a number of things, and I’m not going to get into a whole lot of detail on that, but we had a whole number of things that we had to straighten out to management on. Things like there were like 500 vehicles here and two-thirds of them had 150,000 miles or more. No plan for getting new vehicles and getting the old ones out of the system, so all that’s been done. It took us … On the vehicle thing, state government doesn’t work like a business and you can’t just go and fix things, but it took us five years to get that system in place on the vehicles and that’s been done. Really proud of those things on the management side of it that we dealt with. On the other side of it, in trying to do things that would reform and reshape the agency, we were able to pass a number of pieces of legislation. I guess what I’m probably most proud of is the one where we totally changed up the weights and measures system. I’m not going to get into a lot of details on these things, but other significant things we did in legislation, networking with the Department of Public Safety … I mean … Well, Public Safety, yeah, but because they got our investigation divisions when legislation passed that, but the Department of Transportation, Revenue Department, all of those agencies have really worked closely with us to help us refine and reform some of the things that just from a pure business approach management perspective needed to be fixed. I’m really pleased we did that. I want to mention one more thing and then I’ll let you all have some input or ask me, but the final thing is the CWD deal. That’s something that all of us are interested in outdoors and natural resources are extremely concerned about. I understand … I keep up with it and will continue to keep up with it incidentally on things like feral hogs and so forth, but I understand now 24 cases of CWD have popped up in Tennessee and Mississippi, right near our border, so I hate to say this, but we’re going to get it in Alabama. It’s just a question of where it’s going to pop up and when. We purchased the equipment to do testing at a diagnostic lab in Auburn, which is a super fantastic facility, and trained technician and everything, so we are doing the test in Alabama now with the latest equipment technologically wise, but also, we can do it so much faster. The conservation officers are bringing the samples and we’re doing the testing. I don’t remember all those numbers, but we can turn those tests around very rapidly, so when and if we have to deal with it, working with the game and freshwater fisheries folks, we are prepared to do what we can do from our side.
Dave Milton: Yes, sir. Commissioner McMillan, I read the other day where they were testing some up in Northwest Alabama. About 15 deer, so like you say it’s right there close by Mississippi, and that’s kind of where they’re targeting, from what I understand, is the northwestern part of the state. Like you say, you hope and pray for a miracle. We don’t get it, but there are ways to deal with it, aren’t there?
John McMillan: There are and we are doing everything we can. The best thing to do is be prepared for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s what we’ve done. We faced the same issue with the avian influenza and some other things that we’ve had to deal with here. That’s been the other significant thing is we were prepared to deal with avian influenza when it came along. We had five outbreaks. We also continued to work with citrus green and that’s something that’s finally made its way from Florida into Alabama, and particularly in South Alabama with satsumas and some of those kind of fruits. We’ve had to deal with that, so this agency is full of just sure-enough first-class professional people that do a good job of responding to the consumers and citizens of this state. I just could not be prouder.
Jonathan Goode: Well, you’ve done a fantastic job, and I was thinking this morning on the ride in about not only all of the areas that fall under your management but all of the people that you have to manage. How many employees are there, ballpark, in the Ag and Industries?
John McMillan: We have about 300. 312, I think, is the exact number of full-time employees and we also have about 250 seasonal employees that we hire during the shipping season when peanuts, and cotton, and soybeans, and all the different commodity crops are coming in. To inspect those for quality and moisture and those kind of things, so it’s an important agency that too few people have an understanding of just how important. That’s something I wish we could fix, but people just … As long as state government’s working well and people don’t have any kind of personal interaction with it that upsets them, they don’t pay any attention. That’s probably a good thing in most cases.
Jonathan Goode: That’s when you get the feedback is when folks aren’t happy. Most folks don’t call to say thank you. Well, one of the other big things that happened this past year was Hurricane Michael. I know that a lot of our farmers and landowners have suffered from that. Tell us an update on what have we discovered the damage from the hurricane?
John McMillan: Well, the damage is … I don’t have those numbers right in front of me, but the extension system did a survey and came up with … I’m sorry. I just don’t remember the-
Jonathan Goode: That’s okay.
John McMillan: … the numbers. I’ve cleaned my desk off now, but it was significant. We were blessed in that I think we only had … Really, Houston County was hit the hardest, but we also had four other counties that were impacted. It was tough for people that still had cotton in the fields that wasn’t harvested or picked. Timber was … For the people that had timber that got hit hard, that was probably the worst thing to have to look at. We’re still hopeful that Congress … They got some difficulties there now with the shutdown there and so forth, but we’re still hoping that Congress will be able to pass some sort of special appropriations or something. I acknowledge right off how difficult that’s going to be because when you think of the other things that have gone on like the catastrophic fires in California, that’s going to all get factored in, and I just don’t know how much help our farmers are going to get. But some of our farmers, with all the rain we had at harvest time, and those that were compounded by the impact of Michael are going to have a tough time surviving, in my opinion.
Jonathan Goode: Right. Well, has the government shutdown and the lack of funding for some of these agencies like the Farm Service Agency and FEMA, those sorts of organizations, has that created more work for your department or has it affected y’all in any way?
John McMillan: Well, so far it hasn’t. The potential, depending on how long that shutdown lasts, would be the impact to us through the work we do in conjunction with USDA on cost-share things like meat inspections, for example. If we reach the point that those matching funds or those funds that we have cooperative agreements on and that sort of thing starts to become impacted then we’re going to see an impact on our ability to deliver services. That’ll be the bottom line.
Jonathan Goode: Well, you’re taking a new role starting next Tuesday as the Alabama State Treasurer. What are some of the challenges or opportunities that you see coming our way in the next few years?
John McMillan: Well, the best thing about me assuming my new position, we were talking about being near the finish line here but we’re at the starting gate somewhere else. The best thing about that is we’ll be going into an agency that has been absolutely run by a fantastic individual with Young Boozer, who has done just an absolutely remarkable job and has helped the legislature actually a whole lot with some fiscal decisions and that sort of thing. Legislation as well. Anyway, that certainly … Young and I have been friends for a long, long time and I certainly admire and respect him and am happy to be following him. He has helped us in every way as we go through this transition, so certainly a big thank you to him. But beyond that, there are a couple of things over there. Maybe the three things I would like to mention is first the trust fund, which I had a lot to do with. The financial resources that went into it from the oil lease sale that I administered back when I was Commissioner of Conservation. That’s up to like 3.2 billion dollars in investments in that trust fund, so that’s one of the major things that certainly we’ll be interested in. The other thing is more of a little bit of a little different spin will be … This is something that Young suggested to me, I think, maybe the first time we met when I was even thinking about this, the 529 College Savings Plan. Incidentally … Well, I don’t know whether he’s ready for me to announce this or for anybody to announce it, but he is going to continue to work at the national level on that program and that’s something people really need to be aware of. Any of your listeners that have an interest, I would say go to the treasurer’s website and take a look at that college savings 529 Program. The other thing is the Enable Program, which is a similar tax-free program for special needs folks in Alabama called the Enable Program. E-N-A-B-L-E. That’s also on the treasurer’s website. That’s another place, and what Young suggested and obviously talked about is trying to come up with some efforts to do a better job of getting information about those two programs in particular, out to the public. Just to give you an example, my wife and I have a special needs son and I was not even aware of the Enable Program until I got involved with the campaign and started digging more into things I would be dealing with as treasurer. I think that’s a pretty good example of how much we need to do more in the way of outreach.
Jonathan Goode: Well, Commissioner McMillan, thank you so much for all you’ve done for our state over the past eight years as Commissioner of Ag and Industries. We wish you all the best in your new role as the State Treasurer. If you had any words of advice for Rick Pate, what would those be?
John McMillan: Be ready to roll up your sleeves and be prepared for whatever happens the next time the telephone rings.
Dave Milton: Buckle up. Buckle up.
Jonathan Goode: I think he’s getting ready. I texted him this past week and we’re going to have him on. He said give him two weeks after he’s sitting in the chair and then we’ll get him in here to talk to us.
John McMillan: Well, we have really … In the instance with Rick, I mentioned my long-time friendship with Young Boozer and it’s the same situation with Rick Pate. We have worked real hard, all of our folks here to get … We’ve even put a couple of his potential staff people or staff people that’ll be coming with him on the payroll here, so we’ve done everything that we can possibly do to get him ready to come in here with a smooth transition and we certainly will continue to do that if he needs us.
Jonathan Goode: Again, thank you so much for your service to the state. We wish you all the best. You’re one of the good guys and we appreciate good folks serving the public and holding office, so thank you for doing that. We’ll look forward to speaking with you in your new role as State Treasurer. Thank you so much.
John McMillan: Well, I look forward to it. Thank you guys so much for what you do. Appreciate it.
Dave Milton: Yes, sir.
Jonathan Goode: Thank you, Commissioner.
John McMillan: Bye-bye.
Jonathan Goode: I always have enjoyed talking to him. He’s such a down to earth guy and really has been a great servant for the state of Alabama, so thank you, Commissioner McMillan, for all you’ve done. Y’all stay with us. We’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to hear from some of our sponsors. We’ll be back for more of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny.