“There’s a lot of work to be done for Mississippi agriculture and agribusiness, and a tremendous challenge in creating a greater awareness by the consumer public of the importance of agriculture to our state and the world,” says Cyndi Hyde-Smith, the state’s new commissioner of agriculture and commerce.

“So many folks nowadays don’t have a clue what it takes to get their food and clothing into the retail chain — including, unfortunately, a lot of those in government positions,” she said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Land Bank.

 “They need to be aware: We feed you; we clothe you.

“It drives me crazy, the image some people have of the farmer as just some guy with a seventh grade education driving a tractor through the fields,” Hyde-Smith says.

“The men and women in Mississippi agriculture are on the cutting edge of technology and production methods that make us the envy of the world in food and fiber production. The Mississippi Land Bank and others who support the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s excellent Farm Families of Mississippi promotional campaign are to be congratulated for helping to spread the word about agriculture’s contributions to our nation’s food security.”

Hyde-Smith was elected to the state agriculture post last November, the first woman to ever hold the position. She had previously served 12 years in the Mississippi Senate, eight of those as chairperson of the Agriculture Committee.She and her husband, Mike, raise beef cattle and are partners in Lincoln County Livestock, the local stockyard auction market at Brookhaven, Miss., which has held a live cattle auction every Tuesday since 1942.

Agriculture, at $7.02 billion, continues to hold the rank of Mississippi’s No. 1 industry, she notes, employing approximately 29 percent of the state’s work force, either directly or indirectly. There are approximately 42,400 farms in the state covering 11.2 million acres.

The Mississippi Land Bank had “another strong year,” with almost $7.2 million net income, Gary Gaines, president, said at the annual meeting. “We paid $1.325 million in patronage dividends.

“The bank has a strong balance sheet,” he says, with loans outstanding of $402 million and member equity of $78.4 million. “That equates to a permanent capital ratio of 15.1 percent, which is very strong in any economy — but is exceptionally strong in the economy we face today and considering the large national deficit.