Lowndesboro native Rick Pate: Alabama’s rural commissioner

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2022

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Alabama voters reelected Republican incumbent Rick Pate as Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries on Nov. 8.

Pate grew up on his family’s beef and poultry farm and graduated in 1978 from Auburn University.

The Lowndesboro native, a successful businessman and former Lowndesboro mayor, was first elected to the office in 2018.

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As Commissioner of Ag, he seeks what’s good for rural Alabama.

“I tell people that some people want to live in cities and go to the ballet, but a lot of people don’t,” Pate recalled. “They really want to raise their children in a more rural setting and with different values and a different school system than they might get in a city.”

After college, he started Pate Landscaping Company in 1982. Pate retired after 38 years and was serving a 14-year term as Lowndesboro Mayor when he felt ready for a new challenge.

“A farmer from Autauga County walked in my office one day and told me somebody needed to run [for Commissioner of Ag] because John McMillan was term-limited out,” Pate recalled. “I really told him no. Then later that day, my wife overheard me talking about it and said, ‘You might want to consider that.”

Pate pondered the opportunity for a while, and people began to encourage him to run for the office.

“I was in Macon County and met two guys who each gave me a check for $500,” Pate said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘If I deposit these checks I’ve got to run.’ Then I began to think I could actually win. The opportunity came at the right time.”

During his first term as commissioner, Pate implemented a brand program for Alabama-grown fruits, vegetables, and beef called Sweet Grown Alabama, which helps buyers identify products grown close to home.

“About 300 farmers now participate,” Pate said. “We’ve seen an explosion of local food purchasing.  We got $6 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy local food and give it to food banks during COVID-19.”

Another initiative called Healthy You, Healthy Farm, puts Alabama farmers’ mental health at the forefront in an effort to remove the stigma associated with mental health thanks to an award from the Farm and Ranch Assistance Network.

Pate said his office is also working with veterans in a program called Operation Grow which matches veterans to an extension office to write business plans and startup a farming operation.

Pate enjoys helping rural Alabama communities and seeks to foster strategies for economic development in rural areas.

“People think economic development is getting in factories or manufacturing but a lot of times it’s helping them set up an agritourism business,” said Pate. “I feel like I’m the commissioner for rural Alabama. You can call it Commissioner of Ag, but really, it’s anything good for rural Alabama, which Lowndes County certainly is.”