MISSISSIPPI STATE — Growing row crops, turf and ornamental plants is big business in Mississippi, and supporting these industries through research and education is a high priority at Mississippi State University.

Because of Mississippi's climate and growing conditions, the state produces a wide variety of crops. Some of these, such as cotton, soybeans and rice, have a significant impact on the state's economy individually. Others crops, such as pecans, flowers and home garden vegetables, are smaller but still significant to the state when considered as a whole.

When all the state's green crops were added together, the industry was worth more than $1.3 billion in actual production value in 2001. That figure is multiplied in the economy when the products are consumed, processed for added value, and used to enhance the beauty of the environment and quality of life.

Stan Spurlock, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station agricultural economist, said cotton has the greatest value among the state's top six row crops. When market value and all loan and government payments are added, it had a value of $626 million in 2001.

Adding loan and government payments to the raw market value of each of the other five crops in 2001, soybeans were worth $205 million, rice $179 million, corn $112 million, wheat $48 million and grain sorghum $20 million for a total row crop value of $1.2 billion.

"However, the farm-gate value of crops is not the full measure of agronomy's impact to the state's economy," Spurlock said. "Crop production requires a wide variety of input suppliers and other types of business services."

Spurlock said after the crop is produced and harvested, it is transported elsewhere and processed further. Wholesale and retail trade businesses deliver the finished food and fiber products to the consumers.

"All of these businesses purchase their inputs and hire labor. They generate a ripple effect throughout the rest of the economy," Spurlock said. "For every five employees on soybean farms, three more nonfarm jobs are supported. And for every three employees on cotton farms, five more nonfarm jobs are generated. These indirect impacts from crop production are significant."

Wayne Wells, MSU Extension Service turf specialist, said the state has 5,000 acres of sod production. Growers sold 60 percent of this crop last year to retailers at an average price of $4,000 an acre, for a total production value of $12 million. This figure, however, is only a fraction of the actual value of turf to the state.

"Turf installation per yard costs the same as the turf, and about three-fourths of the turf grown was professionally installed," Wells said. "A home with a good lawn and landscaping adds 5 to 15 percent to the value, so owners of a $100,000 house can add up to $15,000 to the value of their home by landscaping the yard."

Horticulture is another significant contributor to the state's agronomic value. This general term includes the production of such edible crops as vegetables, nuts, fruits and sweet potatoes. Horticulture also includes environmental horticulture and floriculture, which produces cut flowers, bedding plants, shrubs and shade trees, seasonal plants, Christmas trees and more.

Ken Hood, Extension economist in MSU's Food and Fiber Center, said this industry brought more than $101 million to the state's economy in 2001. Of this figure, the edible crops had a farm value of $49 million, and the environmental horticulture and floriculture contributed $52 million. These figures do not include the value of these items at retail, simply the value growers received when they sold to distributors.

Will McCarty, cotton specialist with MSU's Extension Service, said economists can only tally what is grown and harvested, not what is sold at retail. And just adding these figures into one lump sum does not reflect their total value to the state.

"How do you assign a value to the appearance of your lawn? What is it worth to have green grass and red roses?" McCarty asked. "What is it worth to have a shirt on your back, good food to eat and quality grass on the golf greens?"

McCarty said these factors cannot be measured but are part of the overall value of the agronomic industry in the state.

"These are quality-of-life issues related to these crops," he said.

McCarty said another issue whose value can never fully be measured is the research that supports these industries.

"For more than 100 years, MSU researchers have been studying the best ways to grow and harvest crops, manage insect and disease problems, prepare the soil, protect the environment and more," McCarty said. "Extension agents take this knowledge to the producers, enabling them to grow better, more efficient crops."

One example is the labeling found on all chemicals sold for use on plants in the state. McCarty said MSU research is instrumental in developing the state's commercial and residential usage standards for these substances, allowing them to be used safely and effectively.

The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station is responsible for much of the research conducted in support of this industry. In MSU's Plant and Soil Sciences Department in 2001 alone, MAFES invested $8.4 million in scientific pursuits to further aid the farmers of Mississippi in producing the best possible crops from their land.

Bonnie Coblentz writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.