What began in 1935 with a gathering of about two dozen Delta leaders interested in helping the region survive the post-Depression era has evolved into a political force respected throughout the Delta and beyond.
The aim of the organization was simple, according to current Delta Council leaders, focus on those priorities which could not be addressed by local, state, or federal efforts. Specifically, the organization set out to aggressively pursue three areas of priority: the improvement of highways, the development of flood control and drainage, and the regional emphasis on the economic future of agriculture in the arenas of policy and new production technologies.”
Despite the more than six decades that have passed since that first Delta Council meeting, much of the group's priorities are the same. At the group's 66th annual meeting in Cleveland, Miss., recently, vice presidents Milton Parrish and Bill Litton provided attendees with a rundown of Delta Council's activities during the past 12 months.
At the forefront of Delta Council's work is a concerted effort to ensure funding for government farm programs, conservation initiatives, and agricultural research.
“Delta Council is working with congressional leaders and USDA officials to emphasize the urgency of enacting provisions for the current season, similar to those adopted by the Congress at the end of the 1999 and 2000 crop seasons,” Litton says.
“The third consecutive year of low commodity prices, combined with comparatively soft export sales has brought about an extremely fragile financial condition in Delta agriculture,” Litton says. “Production loans are stretched to their limit and the allied agricultural supply businesses are becoming extremely nervous with the financial condition of farmers' ability to meet their financial obligations.”
Parrish says, “In a recent meeting of farm policy leaders of Delta Council, Delta farm operators expressed grave concern over the condition of the Delta farm economy. They urged the officers of Delta Council to communicate the seriousness of this condition to the administration and the Congress. Most critical to an effective farm program is adequate federal budget authority so that appropriate congressional committees can write a reasonable and responsible farm policy.”
To that end, Delta Council is putting its might behind proposals to increase the budget baseline for government agricultural programs. Specifically, the group is endorsing a proposal for farm legislation to be enacted in 2002 that would include necessary income safety nets and commodity marketing tools to sustain production agriculture through periods of soft export sales and extremely low commodity prices.
Delta Council has also joined with other commodity groups to urge USDA to take steps to insure that emergency market loss assistance would be implemented during the 2001 crop season, rather than waiting until after the actual harvest of the crop to administer program funds.
In addition to its support of an economic safety net for farmers, the group puts a high priority on securing funding for agricultural research and technology.
Delta Council has requested that Congress expand and accelerate research in cotton breeding and variety development, establish a soybean breeding program, provide additional funding for the boll weevil eradication program, construct a Delta Center for Technology Transfer, and develop a $2.6 million fish disease program, all in Stoneville, Miss.
Parrish says, “A major fish health research initiative has been identified as the highest priority for Delta Council's catfish research agenda.” The program is needed, he says, to strengthen fish diagnostics, preventive health and disease treatment processes that are fundamental to the future profitability of catfish farming.
On the catfish front, Delta Council is also coordinating with other groups to persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take timely and decisive action to confront the economic losses to catfish production caused by invasive waterfowl species, especially cormorants.
Parrish says, “These predators have been documented to eat up to 3.5 pounds of fish per day, while preying on commercial catfish operations. With literally thousands of cormorants and pelicans preying on Delta catfish operations in a single day, estimated losses are projected to be in excess of 3,000 pounds of fish per day on some individual farming operations during peak periods.”