During his 14 years in the top leadership spot of the 205,000-member Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, David Waide led the organization through challenges ranging from devastating hurricanes to the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the crafting of three major farm bills and the influencing of many legislative issues at the state and national level.

For his many accomplishments during his tenure and his contributions to agriculture in Mississippi and nationally, Waide was honored at this year’s state convention with the organization’s highest honor for individuals, the Distinguished Service Award.

The Clay County row crop farmer and cattleman is retiring at the end of December after choosing not to seek another term.

“David Waide has been a diligent and effective advocate for Mississippi farmers and livestock producers,” said Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran in a video message. “His ability to find solutions affecting farmers large and small, his business acumen, and his public service record have made him a very effective leader.”

During his tenure that spanned three presidential administrations, Waide says he has seen “seasons of bountiful harvests and seasons of despair,” as the state’s farmers have dealt with adverse weather, including the unprecedented devastation from Hurricane Katrina, a faltering economy, escalating fuel/feed costs, the decline of cotton as the state’s leading crop, major changes within the dairy and catfish industries, the specter of Asian soybean rust, avian flu, mad cow disease, and a myriad of other problems.

Forward-thinking sensibility

Through it all, his associates and fellow farmers say, his “work ethic, humor, compassion, down-to-earth common sense and forward-thinking sensibility were unrelenting.”

Waide began his Farm Bureau leadership journey when he was elected president in his home county in 1972. When he ran for vice president of the north Mississippi region in 1994, the 1996 farm bill was about to be written.

“One of the priorities of my campaign was to emphasize the importance of agriculture continuing to have target prices and loan support for the commodities,” he says. “This was paramount in allowing the flexibility of marketing that farmers needed to get out of the huge harvest glut of crops and to give them a mechanism to market their crops during the other 10 or 11 months of the year. We were successful in maintaining the loan program range and the target prices, and agriculture survived.”

When he became the eighth Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president in 1996, two of his top goals were to further strengthen the organization’s already powerful voice in the state legislature and to raise its visibility and clout in dealing with an increasing regulatory burden on agriculture.

“I wanted those in the legislature and those in the regulatory arena to recognize Farm Bureau’s influence,” he says. “I wanted those in the regulatory field to understand that we would only accept decisions based upon sound science — not on emotion or what some bureaucrat thinks might be a good idea.”

Other priorities included increased emphasis on education and communications.

1996 farm bill "one of the best ever"

The 1996 farm bill, he says, was “probably one of the best we’ve ever had. The fundamentals of that bill would be essential to support agriculture in the future. The 2002 bill was very similar, and we continued to maintain the necessity of having supports that agriculture needed to allow flexibility in marketing and have cash flows available.

“I think one of the more significant measures in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills was the fact that all livestock producers were given some conservation monies that they could access to help their operations.”

The question that always seems to surface, Waide says, is “Can farmers live without government supports? I guess the real question in my mind is, can we as a nation survive if we lose the ability we have to produce a domestic supply of food, energy, and fiber.”

In the aftermath of the multi-billion dollar disaster from Hurricane Katrina, and a subsequent blow from Hurricane Rita, Mississippi Farm Bureau leaders, staff, and members throughout the state worked round the clock to lend aid to farmers and rural communities devastated by the storms.

“No sector of agriculture was left untouched,” Waide says.

The organization led efforts to get desperately needed fuel to farmers to keep critical operations going, and feed and supplies to help them keep their animals from dying. It also managed money that was donated to the relief effort and made sure funds got to producers in need.

Increasing visibility of agriculture

As part of his goal to increase the visibility of agriculture in the state, Waide oversaw the launch of a new four-color magazine, Mississippi Farm Country, and Mississippi was among the earliest state Farm Bureaus to establish a website and open Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“I’m also very proud of our ag image campaign, The Farmers of Mississippi, which we launched in February with TV spots, billboards, radio ads, and other promotional efforts,” he says.

“Most consumers nowadays are generations removed from farm life, and this campaign is designed to give them confidence in our food supply and make them more aware of the important role that agriculture and our state’s farmers play in their lives.”

The campaign, financed by Farm Bureau and contributions from dozens of partnering organizations and agribusinesses, will be expanded in 2011.

Waide has not announced future plans, other than returning to his farming
operation. Although he has been mentioned as a possible candidate for
governor, lieutenant governor, and commissioner of agriculture in 2011
statewide elections, he said at the annual meeting that he won’t seek any
elective state office next year. After having served as Farm Bureau
president, Waide said, “there is no position in Mississippi that wouldn’t be
a demotion."

Randy Knight, Pelahatchie, Miss., dairyman and vice president for central Mississippi, was elected to succeed Waide as president.

“No other president in the history of Mississippi Farm Bureau has worked harder to represent the people in agriculture,” Knight says. “His contributions have truly made a difference to everyone involved in agriculture and Farm Bureau.”