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Agriculture in Mississippi | @ISSUE | MPB

August 18, 2019

Hello and thank you for joining us. I’m Wilson Stribling. Welcome to another edition of @Issue where we discuss and debate the critical issues facing the state of Mississippi and how these issues impact you. We want you to share your opinions and comments with us. Just go to /MPB online news. Our twitter our handle is @mpbnews also visit our webpage MPBonline dot org slash issue. At issue tonight, the agriculture industry in Mississippi. Many take it for granted, but the statistics are eye-opening. In 2015, the value of agriculture and forestry products was 7.4 billion dollars the trickle-down value added to the state’s economy by AG and forestry was 16.1 million there are 30 7100 farms in Mississippi and nearly 11 million acres of farmland plus nearly 20 million acres of forestry land the top ten crops produced in Mississippi from one to ten our poultry forestry soybeans kettle corn cotton catfish rice horticulture and hey when ranked nationally Mississippi is number one in catfish production and number three in pulpwood sweet potatoes and cotton we’re joined now by john campbell Deputy Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and commerce in Mississippi we thank you for joining us on at issue I would thank you appreciate you having me how important is agriculture to Mississippi to agriculture is Mississippi’s number one industry and represents an eight billion dollar your farm gate thirty percent of our population is either directly or indirectly employed but in agriculture industry so it is is Mississippi’s number one industry it’s the driver of our economy and so important to our state let’s talk about we have a list here of the Mississippi’s top-10 agriculture commodities at the top of the list poultry followed by forestry than soybeans and forestry actually leapfrog soybeans from 2014-2015 right that’s correct so you know as you name that list off you can see what a diverse agricultural environment we do have Mississippi and r and r are ample land fertile land a great climbing enables us to grow a multitude of crops so it is it is very diverse and interesting and great for us but as far as the forestry historically Foster has been our number number to commodity in 2014 soybean prices went up considerably fifteen sixteen dollars a bushel and for the first time ever it took over that number two spot which was great for our rational being farmers but since then prices ratcheted down slightly round ten dollars right now a bushel so it is taken back to the third spot of roughly 2 million acres so it is steal the landscape of particularly through the Delta you see so much soybeans compared to what you see cotton that fosters back to the number to spotting and shy of a major change in commodity prices we will probably stay there you mention cotton I think especially a lot of folks outside Mississippi associate Mississippi with card especially when you consider our history i was little surprise that see that it’s number six on the list is it typically higher than that so cotton production is one of those really interesting crops kind of give you a point of reference on 2006 we’re planning 1.2 million acres of cotton 2007 that fell well below a million acres and we’ve never even gotten back close to mean acres were about 424 50,000 acres this year and that the unique thing about cotton is different than a grain grain operation is you know if you’re growing rice corn soybeans and you want to flip flop year-to-year you can do that with the women cotton is so specialized with cotton pickers and planners and particularly the chance once you make that investment in cotton you got a state when you decide to move to another crime we lose that any infrastructure is hard to start that again and again what’s the chance shut down they said i do’ for couple years you just don’t go cranking backup you’ve got significant investment to get that going so once you lose an infrastructure considered and some of it some of the areas we have you really have to build an industry back but it but Cotton’s one of those unique things different than that you know our grain crop and we grow some excellent commodities here and our yields are great but that cotton that crop turns over several times in the local economy where we with our grain you harvest it typically goes to a grain elevator and then off on a barge it goes so you don’t have that significant direct impact to a local economy like you do with the cotton production poultry at the top of the list is that typical idiots poetry actually out of that eight billion dollars represents a little over three billion dollars of that of that eight billion so and in the unique thing about poetry’s it’s not widespread throughout the state there’s some centralized only localized areas that that’s that’s what they do they grow poultry in those areas and you know we’ve got great sanderson farms here and look some other some what they call poultry integrators and then I actually have the growers that they’re just their contract growers and they grow for the integrators and really just a driving market we ship all over the world and then you know last year we had the scare with in avian influenza luckily we did not have it here so we avoided that we’ve across the country of escape that sounds really good we’ve done a lot of preparing and that could really been devastating for our industry and Mississippi tell us about the crop outlook overall this year how’s it looking yeah so it’s been we got off a little rough it we had a particularly wet spring and got us a little behind planning our particular row crop commodities corn soybeans cotton and rice so we’ve been in corn yields were really good the key to that is and this is you know like the magic 8-ball no one knows is what the weather is going to do from here until the end of harvest season so you can have the best crop a bumper crop sitting in the field today and we have a hurricane or significant weather weather pattern actually be devastating so we have to be optimistic that we’re going to favorable harvest whether we get this crap out of the field and we do it in a fairly short period of time and and hopefully by November will have significant portion of it out the cat this industry in the US has been threatened in recent years by imports from Asia we traveled to a catfish farm in the Delta to see the work it takes to make Mississippi first in the nation and the world standard for quality catfish MPVs mark Rigsby reports this is the noble farm in Moorhead Mississippi the family first planted cotton and soybeans 50 years ago in the mid-eighties the family began raising catfish the time you know commodity prices changed and you know just we had to start you know look diversification you know sold me when doing good for the price so points but now price of cotton right now so that hey everybody its you know being fishponds to diversified a little bit so we started you know my dad and the mid-eighties started being fish behind and look like he started with seek pines and no we slowly you know Rome you know through the good times and the bad times you know to about 700 acres of water right now Burt roughly 75 will noble grew up on this farm he started farming full time after graduating from Mississippi State i really love fish farm when you know if you might ask me that someday that I hate it but overall I do really like it you know if this guy’s good points and bad points you know it’s back to growing something you know if you start off this you know egg and grow it to where somebody eating it you know a year or two later decision you know make you feel good about what you’re doing you know the farm grows and sells fish to catfish farms in surrounding states and sells fish you eat to local processing plants noble says prices are good right now he wouldn’t say how much money they make from catfish but he says it’s not bad we survive anyway we keep the name on the mailbox from doing it you know if I’m here is not some years we you know do real well so you know it’s a toss-up question anymore giving a dollar now the conversation got serious when asked about asian countries selling catfish in the u.s. I guess import problem is you know Vietnam and China and you’re a pretty much growth same pitch we do now and they are some different breeds of you know catfish but all you know they don’t have to follow really the same guidelines we do but its entire they’re getting that in the pipeline mountain and just started implement last several months for many years us catfish advocates have battled against cheaper imports from Asian countries / questionable farming practices and food safety issues back in March the US department of agriculture began a new program to inspect us raised catfish and foreign raised catfish to meet safety standards similar to the way the USDA inspectors meat and poultry Barry Kane the president of the catfish farmers of america released this statement he says quote this effort has always been about food safety after years of almost non-existent FDA inspections of imports placing the health of consumers at risk we are on the road to raising consumer confidence in the catfish products sold in our stores and our restaurants end quote noble says it comes down to the quality of the catfish and how much it costs to raise them I don’t have a problem with it loud like life fire you know but they when you came up with stuff that we can’t you know that makes it on fire you know the questions they you know they laboured like you and I are you know that we have a you know a better product and they doing this they want to send it over that’s fine along like play you know by fair road well look at it despite the threat of catfish imports noble says farming is his way of life and you know its 24-hour seven-day-a-week yeah 365 days a year you know job and it’s it’s it’s real complicated you know what we do and it also sounds like it’s not easy oh it’s not versus you know don’t we have labor problems too and government guidelines that we gotta followed by you know it’s not easy but you know we make a living at it and you know if it was really there but be doing so mark Rigsby mpb news and we’re back down with john campbell Mississippi still ranks number one for catfish production but how have catfish imports impacted the industry and the farmers here so that’s a great question is certainly in a interesting issue and very very times very complex weird about sixty percent less of acres catfish acres we were a decade or so they were in 40,000 acres is that all from the threat from neighborhoods there’s there’s no multiple factors price feed costs but the imports have had a significant impact on our production here in Mississippi and in what you’ve got is a much much cheaper product coming into the country inferior product and this you this hand right now is starting in 2008 senator Cochran worked in our farm bill to shift catfish inspection from fda to usda where USDA and in specs all of our other livestock beef poultry hogs so it was a perfect fit for them to fit to start inspecting this other farm raised commodity so we shifted from fda and it went in March 2016 from fda to USD a little backup can give you paint a picture of FDA’s inspection process and expect less than 2% of all seafood was important into into the country where USDA inspector hundred percent so to cotton center Cochran’s work they shifted bad and farm bill to usda March 2016 started within the first couple weeks we already had against shipments from Vietnam and other countries being stopped sailed from detection of of carcinogens being in the in the shipments so there was a dispute but does this mean then that all of the the catfish and catfish like fish coming into America is now inspected a hundred percent of it is where we begin that process USDA’s taken over but but since then Senator McCain introduced a Senate resolution 28 in the US Senate congressional review act is circumvented the whole committee process it passed the Senate that would take it away from USDA and get back to fda so our commissioner of agriculture commissioner cindy had Smith was very strong advocate of of American farmers and this is about food security for our consumers and equal standards she got very engaged on this issue went to Washington really walk the halls of Congress to make sure when that Senate resolution got to the house that it was not brought up power on so we’ve been successful thus far keeping it the USDA’s purview we’ve got he’s gotta sit on Paul writes yes to the end of the year and hopefully just dies there but again the importance of that inspection process being a USDA is our farmers are expected by USDA and our foreign imports are expected by USDA and held to the same standards as american fish American catfish we feel like in its consumer protection he won’t safe affordable food supply for your family and again we think it’s only fair that foreign imports should follow the same standard as as a Mississippi or American producer and I get that but what are the differences between fish grown locally and fish that are imported are they dangerous what yelling so there has been a pattern of products being found in ports that are not approved for use United States or FDA and USDA is not proof for our food supply their production methods at times are much different than ours we know ours is safe ours is clean it’s the high standard and we can’t say that for sure about these imports until we start inspecting them at the same level we have our USDA process immigrant labor is an important component of farming in Mississippi Farm Bureau is calling for immigration reform to help farmers get workers from outside the country legally without so much red tape Farm Bureau the Mississippi restaurant and hospitality Association and Republican state representative Joel bomgar of Madison are supporting the nationwide reason for reform campaign it’s backed by business leaders who want to see the immigration process streamlined to make it easier for immigrant workers to enter the country to work legally Mike McCormick is the president of Mississippi Farm Bureau we as American all have the need to eat and the process that we’re going through with our h-2a workers our workers our guest worker programs are causing troubles for our American farmers and farmers here in Mississippi the system is broken and this past spring we went all over the state of Mississippi and talk to our farmers that are using these programs and heard horror stories about their crops rotting in the fields and and not being able to get the labor force that they need to get their crops to market we feel like we have two choices we have to import our labor will have to import our food and the people here in the United States i do believe when our American farmers to produce their food here in the United States their number American farmers in the in the united states has decreased by over twenty percent in the last 10 years it’s simply impossible for us to work a system without having a guest worker program agriculture needs a streamlined flexible guest-worker program that will bring more opportunities for the the workers and farmers and Mississippi form bureau and Farm Bureau’s across the nation join with this effort to ask to have a seat at the table no matter who’s in charge of Congress to ask that we take part in these conversations to enact a sensible immigration reform i spoke earlier with Israel Martinez vice president of the Latin American Business Association of Mississippi about immigrants working in agriculture do you know of illegal immigrants working in the agriculture industry in Mississippi right now oh yes planet that many many people are here without documents and they work not getting our culture but in different areas hotels restaurants but yes definitely work in agriculture industry how are they still able to get and keep those jobs if they’re not here legally well are the farmers and employers I guess they hire them and pay them cash that’s one of the the biggest legacy issues that we have so they don’t ever ask its don’t-ask-don’t-tell just give me an honest day’s work and we’ll call it even at the end of the day correct but there’s another way undocumented immigrants they can get what is called an itin number that’s provided by the IRS and the IRS ask you you make some money in here in the United States you can submit that so some immigrants they use that and they seal pay taxes so even though they are not here legally they still go through government channels and pay taxes on what they earn correct the IRS always get the money what specific changes do you think need to be made especially to the soul paperwork process to help these workers who would like to come to this country or who perhaps are already here but not legally what needs to change specifically to make it easier for them to legally work here and then everything could be aboveboard and not yet nobody passing hands under the table well it’s unfortunate but that’s the truth you know it’s it’s it’s actually both bodies that control the concourse I you know there was an immigrant they don’t agree how this is going to get you know it’s going to be a dressed but i think that both it to come to an agreement where the 11 million people that are here without documents get some type of permit to work you know to get them out of the shadows and to go to the legal process there are some candidates that say you know hey you know let’s send everybody back and actually this is actually going to hurt the economy is going to hurt the families but to get them out and start a new process because right now as I said the process is just horrible it’s terrible and by doing that you know the government is going to start you know getting all all the money actually because they’re get some money but not all the money that quickly could get from this immigrants and immigrant actually will start buying houses we’ve seen this here in Jackson I’ve seen it you know when they have a job they start buying houses they start buying cars and several things so that’s actually they improve the economy and we’re talking about 11 million what do you say to the argument how does it make you feel to hear someone who says that if we have a lot of immigrants coming from other countries and filling these positions it’s pushing Americans Native residents of this country out of those jobs that their tent that immigrants are taking jobs away from people who were born here or who are here legally well I disagree with that and I’ve seen that time there are plenty of jobs for the ball sometimes they’re the the local people or you know those who don’t have do not have yet they don’t want to go to you know hard job that’s actually what happens and you know this this immigrants there actually are not taking this year is one of these people you know those are available happens that you know they come and take it well you know is because was available there are a number of undocumented workers people who live here in in the United States and Mississippi do you think if the process if the path toward legal citizenship or less complicated that we have fewer folks here illegally who want to be working producting that productive members of the society definitely if there are you know easier steps they will come you know with documents and what happens is that there are many opportunities to work here and they come and they stay here because actually it’s hard to come so if things were easier they will go back there off then and create jobs in their country not just in Mexico find you know everywhere and we’re talking about two different things here whether the path to citizenship the path that you’re still on and the other one being just to come to America illegally to work but they’re both difficult are they not correct and I guess there’s some misconception from local people and this is what I’ve seen in my you know 13 years is that a lot of people think that all the anyone’s want to become a citizen you know and that’s not the case you know a lot of immigrants actually they just want to come to work and they want to go back to their country because you know that’s their family that’s where you were all up that’s where you have you don’t feel your power you know friends etc so all right now that process is difficult they end up staying here without documents John Campbell now back with us mississippi Farm Bureau is calling for immigration reform saying that agriculture as an industry depends on immigrants for the labor they provided they say that any delays in processing paperwork and regulations would be a problem for the industry what’s the what’s the agency’s position on yeah so so migrant workforce is critical agriculture give you an example on our sweet potato growers environment that’s where we grow 95 plus percent of our 24,000 acres of sweet potatoes if if those vardaman sweet potato growers hired every person in that area during harvest season they would still be a deficit for farmworkers so we’ve got to to work with our government to find a way through that we are able to get affordable efficient seasonal workers into this country that illegal and you are h2 a worker program that is for your farm workers huh we can do that but we’ve with Farm Bureau and other partners have been working with the administration to make sure that process gets to move along it’s been a little slow a little more cumbersome than then are a community can stand right now to get that workforce in place and the time fashion but without that migrant worker we cannot produce agricultural feed this country in this world as we as we are doing it today how did the current laws and regulations affect local farmers so our current laws again there’s a structure we’ve got our h-2a workers program that is for farmworkers we’ve got h2b worker program that is for your tourism your restaurants your food processors so we got the structure there the problem with is the bureaucracy and the paperwork in that structure that is preventing it from moving along as fast as it needs to and that’s the challenge the structures they are the laws are there but the processes is so slow right now that it’s really impacting our growers and negative manner in a way that they can’t get the workers they need to know they can’t get them soon enough and in enough numbers to do the job we need to do so what would change that would take a federal law change to eliminate some of the the paperwork’s so the laws they are getting the laws there it’s like it’s certainly easy law we work on some things to strengthen it it’s more just the process the paperwork process moving it along to the system eliminating some maybe some redundant paperwork some processes and in the key to that is making sure that when those decisions are made about that process that the stakeholders the farmers are at the table helping develop the process and I think that’s what we’ve really been missing this far is that person that exactly knows or knows exactly what needs to happen to move it along and then there’s just been a disconnect john campbell Deputy Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and commerce thank you for your time hey thank you appreciate you having me for more information on agriculture in Mississippi go to our website mpb online dot org slash issue you can find the full length interviews we conducted with guests on this program as well as additional information and links but for now we are out of time we hope you will join us again next week for another edition of at issue goodnight

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