“It’s pretty obvious from what we hear in Washington and see in the press, that with the deficit situation we’re facing, direct payments to farmers are likely to be going away,” Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation told farmers at the annual meeting of the Producer Advisory Council of northeast Mississippi.

“But if that happens, what we need to do is to be able to take the direct payments money to subsidize crop insurance and risk management at a level where our farmers can stay in business.

“We have policy in Mississippi Farm Bureau that basically supports the concepts of the 2008 farm bill, and I tell the people in Washington, we’re not looking for a handout or giveaway program — but we’ve got to have some kind of safety net to fall back on when the inevitable catastrophic years come along.

“In my year as Farm Bureau president,” Knight said, “I’ve found that trying to accomplish things in Washington involves working with a lot of people who are more about playing politics than they are in looking out for what’s best for the people of this country — this group’s not supporting this, or that group’s not supporting something else.

“We have a great relationship with our Mississippi delegation, and they always have an open door, but beyond them, it looks like we’re facing a lot of obstacles as we go forward with the farm bill.

“We’ve got a huge challenge confronting us. By the year 2050, projections are that world population will have increased to 9 billion. Over the next 10 years, we’re going to have to produce more food than in the last 150 years combined.

“I feel if we can keep Washington — the EPA, the Department of Environmental Quality, OSHA, and others —from regulating us to death, we can produce that food.”

Knight, himself a fourth generation farmer/dairyman, said, “We farmers are stewards of resources; we grew up on the land, we love it, and we want to protect it for succeeding generations, but one of our biggest challenges is convincing the people in Washington that we’re doing a good job of taking care of our land, water, and livestock.”

The Mississippi legislature, which now has a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, is currently working on budgets and other measures for 2012, Knight noted.

“I met recently with our new lieutenant governor and key legislators and told them about the huge challenge facing agriculture,” he said. “I think we’re really fortunate to have good working relationships with the new Senate and House Agriculture Committee chairpersons, as well as our new governor, lieutenant governor, speaker, and the new commissioner of agriculture and commerce. With 47 new senators and representatives, we’ve got a lot of education to do, but I feel good about where we are.

“We made a tremendous impression on many in the legislature last year with the overwhelming success of our eminent domain initiative.

“When we started the petition effort to get the initiative on the general election ballot, many legislators didn’t give us a snowball’s chance of succeeding. But, we got their attention, proving how strong the rural vote is, and it has opened a lot of doors for us in the legislature.”

“With our new agriculture commissioner, Cyndi Hyde-Smith, we feel there are a lot of new opportunities for our state’s agriculture and forestry. Agriculture is such a small group now that we need, more than ever, to work together, and she has shown a lot of willingness to do that.”

Among state initiatives being backed by Farm Bureau, Knight said, is legislation that would provide liability coverage for the agritourism industry. “This would allow more farmers to open their farms to the public and give them a firsthand experience of what’s going on in agriculture, and I feel good about chances for this.

“We’re also working with the Secretary of State’s office on copper theft, a growing problem everywhere, and we’ve asked them to add grain bins and center pivots to strengthen protection in that area.”

A bill regarding the breeding of deer in enclosed areas is coming up, Knight said, and “and while we don’t necessarily have a problem with enclosed hunting areas, when it gets down to breeding deer in small facilities and bringing deer in from other states, we think there could be a health issue involving livestock herds in our state. There will be a lot of discussion on this.”

There likely will continue to be funding issues for Mississippi State University agricultural programs, Extension, and research, he said, “and we’ll fight tooth and toenail to try and keep as much of this funding as possible.”

Knight said Mississippi Farm Bureau has hired a new coordinator for its Young Farmer and Rancher program.

“We had a young farmer/rancher leadership conference recently with more than 180 in attendance. These young people are the future of Mississippi agriculture and Farm Bureau, and we’re excited about the direction of this program.

“We’re also strengthening our women’s programs, including Agriculture in the Classroom. In an era when many youngsters don’t even know where their milk comes from, this program does a tremendous job of educating our school children about agriculture.”

The organizations Farm Families of Mississippi program, in its third year with TV advertising, billboards, and other promotions “to let people know how important agriculture is in their lives,” is now under way for 2012, Knight said. “Last year we expanded the program to the Gulf Coast and this year we’re adding the Tupelo and Greenwood/Greenville areas. Thanks to the support of farmers, businesses, and organizations throughout the state, this program keeps growing, and follow-up surveys have shown it has generated excellent consumer awareness of the vital role agriculture plays in our state.”

Producer advisory recommendations

Among timber, fruits/nuts, and specialty crop sector recommendations made by producer committees at the advisory council meeting were:

· Forestry: “We would like research on use of logging wastes for biofuels,” George Byrd said. “We’d also like to see continued support for tree farm/stewardship programs — since 1955, Mississippi has been the nation’s No. 1 tree farm state, and 70 percent of the tree farms are on privately owned land, so we need to keep supporting this effort.

“And we’d like to have help with market development and best management practices training.”

· Fruits/nuts: “Updated recommendations for fruit and nut varieties specific to our region’s soils would be helpful,” said Gerald Jetton. “Also, information on new varieties and planting trials, and grafting studies and demonstrations on how to get trees into production sooner.”

· Vegetables: “More information on cost-sharing and other programs would be helpful,” said Lisa Hart. “Also, further studies on beekeeping, varieties that grow best under plastic mulch, deer and squirrel control alternative — this is a huge issue for our producers — and more studies and information on propagation and grafting.”

· Ornamentals: “We’d like to see research and variety recommendations for disease and insect resistance in roses and ornamentals,” said Sherra Owen.

“Also, we’d like information on organic disease control and alternatives to fungicides, research for control strategies for critters such as voles, Japanese beetles, and others, and continued updates of Extension horticultural publications.”

· Turf: “Research on how best to maintain the tensile strength of mature sod, herbicide resistance and control issues, ways to deal with increasing regulations regarding chemical use in lawn care, and studies on products that can conserve nitrogen for turf applications are needs for our industry,” said Harry Collins. “Also, we would like to see the vacant Extension turf specialist position filled.”