Mississippi needs a “full-time go-to person” to assist the state’s farmers with agritourism, says Jo Lynn Mitchell, whose family has a 1,500-acre row crop farm plus an agritourism operation that attracts thousands of paying visitors each year.

“As things stand, there are five or six different organizations that have a little piece of agritourism as their responsibility,” she said at the annual Producer Advisory Council meeting that allows producers from north Mississippi to discuss programs, projects, and staffing to Mississippi State University Extension and research personnel.

“We need one person we can go to, and we believe MSU can help us with that,” Mitchell said. “We think agritourism offers viable enterprises for established and new farmers. It breathes life into rural communities and acts as a resource to improve agriculture’s image in a broader culture.

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“We believe MSU can provide resources to educate the agricultural community about agritourism and to help educate the general public about agriculture through agritourism. If we had a full-time person to work on this, they could provide us with materials and assistance, as is being done with other Extension programs.”

Other agriculture sectors presenting their wish lists to MSU officials included:

Aquaculture: “We catfish producers would like additional research on alternative feeds and water quality impact,” said Jay Schmidt. “The impact of antibiotics on immunity is an issue for which we’d like more studies to be sure we aren’t running into problems with these drugs.”

He said research at Stoneville and on the MSU campus is beneficial to the aquaculture industry. “They’re also helping us with competitive issues, studies on ponds, newly-emerging technology, and new ways to raise fish.”

Schmidt says the hiring of an Extension aquaculture agent, Mark Patterson, will be beneficial to the state’s aquaculture industry.

Beef: The Mississippi beef industry is “enjoying good times now,” said cattleman Jake Megehee. “We’ve got high beef prices, corn prices are coming down, cattle numbers are shrinking, and we’re doing a good job of developing markets overseas for specialty products. From each animal slaughtered now, we get $300 worth of variety meats to export.”

There continues to be a need for research to develop “a good cool season perennial grass for northeast Mississippi that will do well in our hot, dry summers on clay soils,” he says. “We also need more research on substitutes for ammonium nitrate, and on an economical control method for fire ants — perhaps on a communitywide basis, since these pests are a problem not only for cattle producers, but for homeowners.”

Megehee said the state’s producers need budgets specific to more costly overwintering in north Mississippi for different livestock enterprises, such as cow/calf operations, stocker operations, and steer operations.

“We need more research on cattle buyer preferences, as to what they specifically look for in cows and what they see as premium characteristics and discount characteristics.”

And he said more education is needed to influence the public’s perception of animal medicine “so we don’t keep losing the drugs we need to produce healthy livestock.”

Megehee noted that at the recent Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo at Jackson, the Mississippi Cattlemans Association raised $81,500 for scholarships to “help develop an interest in agriculture among our state’s young people.”

Another $55,500 was raised through a percentage of sales of champion beef cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats, he says. “Altogether, we raised $137,000 for this outstanding scholarship program.”