BATON ROUGE, La. — Bob Odom, Louisiana's commissioner of agriculture and forestry, has won re-election handily, capturing 66 percent of the votes cast in the statewide election. Meanwhile in Mississippi, the race for commissioner of agriculture and commerce is heating up.

Louisiana's Oct. 4 election pitted incumbent Odom of Zachary, La., against his Republican challenger Don Johnson of Transylvania, La. Odom captured 822,682 votes to Johnson's 430,856 votes.

This will be Odom's seventh consecutive term as commissioner of agriculture and forestry. Although he has served in that position since 1980, Odom has worked for the department since 1960. Prior to his election as commissioner, he served as chief of the pesticide division, acting executive assistant to the commissioner, and director of technical services.

A native of Haynesville, La., Odom has spent his entire life in agriculture. He grew up on a 1,000-acre cotton and dairy farm, and still has a 200-acre farm in Claiborne Parish. He is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University.

The race for commissioner of agriculture and commerce in Mississippi pits incumbent Lester Spell of Richland, Miss., against Republican challenger Max Phillips of Taylorsville, Miss. The two face off in the statewide general election this November.

Spell, a Democrat, says, "Agriculture is Mississippi's number one industry. When it does well, our economy does well. I believe our land is a treasure. As commissioner of agriculture and commerce, I'm committed to make it work to improve the life of every Mississippian," he says.

If re-elected, Spell says he would continue to operate the state's farmers' markets. "I would continue the farmers' market nutritional food program that I began, which offers new markets for small farmers; continue the farm-to-school program, which I spearheaded for the state's fruit and vegetable growers and for local schools to have fresh Mississippi grown fruits and vegetables; continue supporting state and federal small farmer initiatives and markets. I will continue to promote value-added processes for the purpose of creating niche markets for all our commodities either through funding opportunities, education, or other assistance."

Ideally, he says, farmer ownership in these processes has the potential to return a larger share of the retail dollar back to our farmers.

"I also would continue to support better use of agricultural resources in order to flourish our economy with measures like the Land, Water, and Timber Resource Board Act that provides funding for agricultural growth and expansion and thus creates broader markets and more jobs," Spell says. "Renewable agricultural biomass such as chicken house litter and residue left in the forest following timber harvests are two big potential sources of alternative energy that offer promise of new industry related to agriculture."

His opponent Max Phillips says he believes Mississippi's greatest assets are its people and an abundance of renewable natural resources. "As your next commissioner of agriculture and commerce, my primary focus will be to combine these assets in a productive manner, promoting rural development, assisting our family-owned Mississippi agribusinesses, and providing for a safe food supply from the farm gate to the family table.

"To accomplish these goals we must reduce the cost of government and hold the line on wasteful spending. Duplication of effort must be eliminated," he says. "I propose the creation of an agriculture advisory council represented by all areas of the agriculture industry to work with the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. This open door format will give a voice to a team of ag leaders directly involved in the agriculture industry of Mississippi and provide direction for the development of a long-range plan for Mississippi agriculture."

Phillips says, "One of the most important things that we must do is educate Mississippians as to the value of its number one industry, agriculture. It is the very foundation of our economy and touches every aspect of our lives. Therefore it is vital for Mississippi to invest in Mississippi owned and Mississippi operated business. If we will learn the value of doing business at home and buying from ourselves, then will our state prosper."

Incumbent Lester Spell attended Mississippi State University and graduated from Auburn University with a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

In addition to serving as Mississippi's commissioner of agriculture for the past eight years, Spell has worked as a veterinarian; he has served as mayor of Richland, Miss., and as the owner of Spell's Pick-Your-Own Blueberry and Pumpkin Farm. He also manages his family's timber & wildlife interests and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corp.

Spell is chairman of the Mississippi Fair Commission, chairman of the Farmers' Market Board, and co-chairman of the Mississippi Land, Water, & Timber Resources Board. He is past president of the Southern United States Trade Association, the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the Mississippi Municipal Association, the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Mississippi Veterinary Medicine Association and the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce.

"Eight years ago, I became commissioner of agriculture and commerce with a vision and a plan. Today, our department has highly trained and motivated personnel that are doing 20 percent more measurable work and doing it with 32 percent fewer people than when I came in office," Spell says.

He says, "Although we've reduced employees by cross training and eliminating outdated and useless procedures, we have initiated new programs and practices that benefit Mississippians such as: the farmers' market nutritional program; farm to school food program; truth in pricing bar code verification program, which is used to accurately fair price in food stores; the Make Mine Mississippi Program that now has over 800 companies and is the only program dedicated to helping and promoting Mississippi businesses that grow, manufacture, or process items in our state."

Republican Max Phillips is a native of Ellisville, Miss. Phillips earned his associate's degree in agriculture from Jones County Junior College, and both a bachelors and master degree in agricultural education from Mississippi State University.

He taught agriculture education in Mississippi's public schools for 21 years, served as the Mississippi Department of Education's agriculture industry training coordinator for two years, and worked in agricultural lending for Production Credit Association and Trustmark National Bank for 10 years.

In addition, Phillips says he has 35 years of experience in cattle, row crops, poultry and timber. He serves as vice president of the Mississippi Junior Livestock Council, director of the Smith County Livestock Council, and is a member of the National FFA Environmental and Natural Resources Career Development Events Committee.

Phillips is a member of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association, the National FFA Alumni Association, the National Rifle Association, the North American Hunting Club, and the Mississippi Wildlife Federation.

If elected, Phillips says his goals would be to seek and obtain global markets for Mississippi commodities, develop and support Mississippi-owned agricultural enterprises, and promote value-added agricultural industries, which use Mississippi's raw materials. His goals also include working closely with state and federal governments to provide Mississippi's fair share of funding for rural development; providing a "common sense" approach to environmental issues in agriculture practices; and increasing training and job opportunities in the agricultural industry for Mississippi youth.

Phillips says he also plans to coordinate bio-security measures with state and federal agencies to insure a safe food source for the consumer "from the farm to the family."

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com