Mississippi’s new majority Republican government opens a new chapter for the state’s agriculture, says Randy Knight, president of the state’s largest farm organization, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

“We’re excited about the opportunities for Mississippi agriculture as we begin a new four-year term of state government under new leadership,” he said at the organization’s annual Commodity Conference at Jackson.

“We’ve been to the capitol a number of times and met with our new governor, Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders.  

 “It has been great to meet with them and talk about the future of Mississippi agriculture.”

Samantha Cawthorn, the organization’s public policy director, says Farm Bureau is looking forward to working with the new leaders in the legislature.

“Sen. Billy Hudson from Hattiesburg is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. We got to know him well during the campaign for passage of the eminent domain initiative last year, and we have appreciated his cooperation on issues of importance to the state’s agriculture.”

The vice chair of the committee is Sen. Russell Jolly from Houston.

In the House, the Agriculture Committee chairman is Preston Sullivan, from Okolona, and vice chair is Bill Piggott from Tylertown.

Melanie Sojourner of Natchez is chair of the Senate Forestry Committee and Giles Ward of Louisville is the vice chair. Becky Currie of Brookhaven is chair of the House Forestry Committee, and Bo Eaton from Taylorsville is the vice chair.

“The House has a two-vote Republican majority and the Senate has a rather large Republican majority,” Cawthorn says. “When Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker  Philip Gunn selected their chairmanships in a bipartisan manner, naming both Democrats and Republicans, we felt that a very positive step that bodes well for Mississippi. The bipartisan spirit we’ve seen thus far has been encouraging, and I think our state’s agriculture is in good position moving forward.

“We had an excellent working relationship with our new Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cyndi Hyde-Smith when she was in the Senate, and we look forward to working with her in her new role as the head of this key state agency.”

2011 was “a difficult year for the state’s farmers,” Knight says. “From too much rain, unseasonably cool temperatures, and destructive tornadoes in the spring to unusually hot, dry conditions in the summer — we ran the gamut of weather conditions. But despite weather and ever-rising costs of fuel and feed, our farmers persevered.

“A definite bright spot for the nation’s agriculture was the passage of three free trade agreements that will help level the playing field for farmers and are projected to increase direct U.S. farm exports by $26.5 million per year. “Mississippi family farms will benefit greatly from open access to new markets for their poultry, beef, rice, catfish, and other products.”

Farm Bureau staff members and volunteer leaders across the state “worked tirelessly,” Knight says, to support our campaign for eminent domain reform, Initiative 31, which the state’s voters passed overwhelmingly in November.

This month, the Farm Bureau’s Ag Image Campaign will kick off its third year of taking agriculture’s message to the consumer public, he says.

“Working with a committee of farmer members from across the state, this very successful campaign was launched in 2010 in the Jackson media market with TV commercials, radio spots, newspaper ads, and billboards. Over 1,200 TV commercials were aired in the metro area, along with statewide radio coverage.

“A follow-up survey showed highly positive results in all key message areas.

“With support from all industry segments, we continued the campaign in 2011, adding the Gulf Coast market. We plan to include north Mississippi this year.

“Statewide media purchases are expensive and one way our state’s farmers can help to support this effort is through tax deductible contributions to the campaign.”

Also, Knight says, the Farm Bureau is spearheading an effort for a special Farm Families of Mississippi vehicle license plate.

“Pre-orders are now being accepted for the new tag,” he says. “The fee is $31 and a portion of that will go to the Farm Families of Mississippi campaign.”

Application forms for pre-ordering the tags are available at Farm Bureau offices or may be downloaded at the growingmississippi.org website.