“Agriculture, resource management, and what we do with our working lands constitute your generation’s most pressing challenges,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan told students at Mississippi State University on her recent visit to the state.

Merrigan also met with university officials and leaders of state agricultural organizations as part of her national “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” tour that aims to increase awareness of the interconnection between food and fiber producers, processors/retailers, and consumers.

“Secretary Merrigan has been a friend of agriculture,” said Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the Delta Council at Stoneville, Miss. “She has always been ready to listen to our problems and needs, and we’re pleased she is visiting our state to learn firsthand about our issues.

“Mississippi agriculture’s working relationship with USDA has always been very close and that has facilitated much of the progress of our region, where agriculture is a major economic component,” he said.

Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, commended Merrigan for the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” effort and noted that that the “Farm Families of Mississippi” media campaign, sponsored by Mississippi Farm Bureau and other organizations and agribusinesses, has been successful in creating awareness by the consumer public of the important role of agriculture in the state.

He said, too, that the 2008 farm bill “has worked well for us” and “while we realize agriculture has to share” in efforts to reduce federal spending, “we want to be sure that reductions are applied fairly to all sectors, not just agriculture.”

Also participating in the sessions at Mississippi State and Alcorn State University, as well as at a conference for small farmers at Hattiesburg, Miss., was Karis Gutter, deputy administrator for field operations for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Washington.

A native Mississippian, Gutter is responsible for oversight and guidance for 2,250 county FSA offices in 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Speaking to a standing room only crowd, Merrigan said today’s college generation “faces enormous challenges on a wide range of fronts — population growth, widespread global poverty, urban decay, climate change, national security, and many others.”

With a world population forecast to increase from today’s 6.9 billion to 9 billion by 2050, she says, “At the same time, we face declining availability of fresh water, arable land, and other resources. To keep producing enough food without destroying our life-supporting resources, we must reduce our impacts, conserve the resources we have, and strengthen self-sufficiency around the globe.”