The signs of harvest were evident as I drove through the Mississippi Delta late last month, as farmers were hard at work gathering their soybeans, corn, and rice. To get behind slow moving traffic in that part of our state during late August and September usually means there is a caravan of equipment worth millions of dollars moving slowly to begin harvest in yet another field.
It is at this time of year that we are reminded of the impressive economic activity and number of jobs created by the agriculture industry, not just in the Delta, but across the entire state of Mississippi.
AGRICULTURE’S ECONOMIC IMPACT
Mississippi’s agricultural producers are some of the most valuable and productive in the nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated in 2007 that Mississippi’s approximately 41,000 farms had crop and livestock sales of $4.8 billion, up from $3.1 billion in 2002.
These impressive results have helped power our state’s economy. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce estimates that agriculture and forestry provides an economic impact of approximately $6 billion annually, making it the state’s largest business. In Mississippi, agriculture employs nearly 30 percent of the state’s workforce either directly or indirectly. The Delta Council estimates that in the Delta alone, agriculture is responsible for at least 30,000 permanent jobs, in such fields as crop consulting, fertilizer and chemical sales, seed marketing, and equipment sales and services.
In recent years, agricultural producers in Mississippi have found a new way to benefit our state’s economy. According to Mississippi State University, there has been tremendous growth in the number of farmers’ markets, with more than 50 in operation across the state and more being planned. By drawing people from surrounding areas, these markets help the economies of the local communities. Growers and producers, both large and small, also gain. They are able to sell their products directly to consumers at retail prices rather than wholesale.
SUPPORTING MISSISSIPPI AGRICULTURE
Every five to six years, Congress passes agriculture-related legislation known as the “farm bill.” This expansive legislation sets agriculture policies and provides vital support to help farmers and ranchers deal with the uncertainties in the marketplace.
I voted for the most recent farm bill, which was approved last summer. While not perfect, the bill was largely supported by Mississippi’s producers – from cotton, soybean, rice, and catfish farmers to their representative agriculture organizations.
At its core, last year’s farm bill provides a safety net that Mississippi’s producers need, while also providing consumers the security of knowing our nation’s farms will continue to produce safe and affordable food and fiber. Mississippi’s agricultural economy benefits from many of the provisions contained in the farm bill, including:
• Catfish Grading and Inspection: The bill protects consumers and catfish farmers by authorizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin a voluntary grading and mandatory inspection program for catfish.
• Conservation Reserve Program for Retired Catfish Ponds: The bill modifies the Farmable Wetland Pilot Program of the Conservation Reserve Program to make retired catfish ponds eligible for this continuous CRP program.
• Cotton Storage: The cotton storage program is maintained through the life of the bill. This helps cotton producers meet cash flow needs without having to sell their commodities at harvest time when market prices are generally at their lowest.
• Rural Development: The farm bill reauthorizes several loan and grant programs that provide critical infrastructure development assistance for rural areas. These services include water and wastewater infrastructure and access to broadband service.
A MISSISSIPPI WAY OF LIFE
As one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senators, I am committed to working with producers in our state to ensure agriculture remains both an economic driver and a way of life in Mississippi for generations to come. The passage of the 2008 farm bill was a step in that direction. The bill was good for Mississippi’s agricultural community, and what is good for our agricultural community is good for our entire state. It was nice to see a working reminder of this during my recent statewide tour.