Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce believes the state should be actively working to bring up a new generation of people involved in agriculture.
Andy Gipson, named to the position when predecessor Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed U.S. Senator by Gov. Phil Bryant in April 2018, spoke to DeSoto County Republicans this month about what he sees as the state’s role in agriculture.
Gipson, when asked later about what the greatest challenge is to Mississippi agriculture, said it is fostering new farmers to replace the current, yet aging, generation of those who work the land and raise livestock.
“Our biggest challenge is to plan for the future, the agricultural future and our young people,” Gipson said. “Where is the next generation farmers? Let’s find these people in the eighth grade, the ninth grade. We need to get them on a pathway to step in and continue the work of the 35,000 farms across our state and make sure Mississippi agriculture remains the strongest part of our economy.”
Those young farmers will face a daunting and stiff challenge in an industry where prices can be soft, while the operating capital and debt to be a farmer can be quite steep.
Gipson, who is running for election in November but who is not facing a Republican primary challenge, said he wants to address that issue with legislators, if re-elected.
“I’m going to the Legislature next year and look at trying to get a program to help finance the next generation of farmers as part of this Workforce Development Initiative,” Gipson said. “It’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve actually put a pencil to it and I’m excited about that as well.”
The state Ag Commissioner added help to farmers should have similar priority in the state’s mind as other businesses, and get the same enticements.
“For all the incentives that we give to various industries, we must never forget that agriculture is the largest part of Mississippi’s economy,” said Gipson. “We’ve got to get these young people plugged in. There are private lenders, plenty of them, but I think anything we can do to help the young farmers more comfortable with coming into the operation, I think would be a plus.”
DeSoto County has an agricultural segment, but many may still consider it a suburban county with its populated presence near the Tennessee border. Gipson believes his message should equally resonate in Southaven and Olive Branch as it might in Eudora or Lewisburg.
“Bottom line: we want to know where our food comes from,” he said. “Every shopper out there, every person buying for their family wants to know it’s wholesome, locally grown.”
Gipson has implemented a “Genuine Mississippi” program that identifies what food or meat comes from the Magnolia State.
“We’re inviting everybody in Mississippi who is a farmer, producer or in a business of anything grown, crafted or raised in Mississippi,” Gipson noted. “That applies to our produce, row crops, livestock or anything crafted as a value-added. We want to promote local, Mississippi products.”
You can find out more about the Genuine Mississippi program on a website, genuinems.com.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.