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Agritourism connects visitors with agriculture

• A guide to the stAte's fArms, food And commerce •

Long Rows to Success
SoybeanS, corn, peanutS and other row cropS enrich State economy
Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce // // 2013

Mississippi Agricultural Aviation pilots are skilled professionals ready to cover your farming needs north, south, east or west.

Helping Mississippi Farmers Feed the World


7 a Look inside 8 mississippi agriculture overview

Leading Industries
10 Fun on the Farm





Mississippi agritourism destinations encourage visitors to connect with agriculture Mississippi forest landowners harvest and regrow timber acreages Soybeans are among Mississippi’s top commodities High tunnels help farmers improve products and profits Cotton farmers opt for corn to increase profitability Delta region produces near-record rice yields Mississippi catfish farmers prosper through innovation, despite threat of outside markets Farmers find success in growing freshwater prawns Mississippi’s top industry continues to grow Strong demand brings a surge in Mississippi peanut production Beef cattle industry continues to boost state economy Livestock shows set new records Annual shows boost economy

20 tall, tall trees

24 rows of Success 29 tunnel Vision

30 complementary crops 39 a mississippi Staple

42 reeling in the market

47 a Freshwater market 48 poultry prospers 54 peanuts aplenty 60 cow country

65 a blue-ribbon year 67 horse business




Growing a healthier world, one harvest at a time.
Our task is simple, yet monumental. To provide enough food for the world, while protecting it at the same time. We believe that with the right combination of innovative science, tenacious problem solving and unshakable passion, we can do it. We will meet the needs of today while laying a foundation for a better tomorrow. And in doing so, we will not only grow a healthier world, we will make sure that abundance endures for us all. Learn more at

Science For A Better Life


MISSISSIPPI AgrIculture 2013
Local Food
68 to market, to market 74 a Growing industry 79 Sweet tradition

Farmers markets encourage consumers to eat local and healthy Farmers create new markets with specialty crops Calhoun County leads state in sweet potato production


Consumer Protection & Services
80 Safety measures
Department of Agriculture and Commerce serves more than farmers Theft Bureau investigates crime and loss of property MDAC seed lab moves the odds to farmers’ favor Agricultural aviation helps farmers with efficiency and increased production Aviation, ag and forestry museums attract visitors

85 protecting producers 87 it Starts with a Seed 88 up in the air

93 Flight at the museum

74 94

Agricultural Education
94 Schooled in agriculture 99 extending a hand 101 a Family affair
Education programs around the state introduce students to new opportunities in ag University extension services reach out to public Brothers develop life skills through raising goats Program helps to grow and market healthy food

103 improving Quality of Life

On the Cover Jeremy Jack of Belzoni, MS, prepares a field for planting wheat. PHOTO BY BRIAN McCORD




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UPin the AIR
Agricultural aviation helps farmers with efficiency and increased production
MiSSiSSippi agriculture

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Traveling throughout our great state visiting farms, stockyards, nurseries, greenhouses, and orchards, it is easy to see why Mississippi has such an incredibly rich and diverse agricultural history. With our fertile soil, temperate climate, and gifted farmers, we have the resources, fortitude, and versatility to provide safe, affordable food and fiber worldwide. I am thrilled to share with you a glimpse of Mississippi agriculture – our state’s largest industry – through the eyes of those who live it each day. The daily challenges that our farmers face are unique, and, in most cases, not within their control. The process of taking an agriculture product from the farm to the table is often complex and involves the work of many. From input suppliers to processors and transporters, numerous jobs exist because of agriculture. Twenty-nine percent of Mississippi’s workforce is employed by jobs related to agriculture making it an economic driver across the state in communities, both large and small. There are many opportunities for Mississippi agriculture and agribusinesses to expand even further. The world’s rapidly growing population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. To keep up with this growth, more food will have to be produced in the next 50 years than the past 10,000 years combined. My hope is that, as you read these stories, you gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Mississippi agriculture. The next time that you sit down to eat a meal take a moment to reflect on how the food actually got to your plate. First, thank god, then thank a farmer, and support Mississippi agriculture by purchasing Mississippi products. I would like to thank the advertisers for supporting this publication as well as those who shared their stories with us. Without your continued support, this publication would not have been possible. Sincerely,

Cindy Hyde-Smith Commissioner Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce





Mississippi Agriculture
A look at the state’s diverse industry
From mississippi’s top
commodities, including broilers and soybeans, to a variety of agritourism destinations, education and research, agriculture is big business in the Hospitality State. More than 42,000 farms cover 11.2 million acres of state land, with the average farm at 263 acres. Mississippi’s mild climate makes for long summers, which allow farmers to grow crops from March through October. The state boasts 19.6 million acres of forestland, 14,000 miles of streams, and 640,000 acres of ponds and lakes across a varied terrain, providing a fertile, favorable environment. Just under 1,500 of the 42,400 farms in Mississippi are used for raising the state’s top commodity – broilers, or chickens for meat. The state ranks fourth in the nation in broiler production and is home to two of the top ten broiler-producing counties in the United States – Scott and Smith. Other top agricultural commodities include soybeans, corn, cotton and aquaculture. Forestry is also a big economic player. Mississippi leads the nation in the number of certified tree farms. Mississippi is home to unique specialty crops like muscadine grapes, shiitake mushrooms, and the country’s largest bonsai nursery, and it is the sweet potato capital of the world. In 2011, the state harvested 20,000 acres of sweet potatoes with a production valued at $66 million. More than just crops, Mississippi agriculture connects consumers with farmers through agritourism destinations like U-pick farms, corn mazes and festivals, along with farmers markets and the Farm-toSchool program. University research and extension programs, as well as educational programs, including FFA, 4-H and the Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program, promote the industry’s importance and teach the benefits of agriculture. As a major segment of the state’s economy, the industry contributes 22 percent of statewide income and 29 percent of statewide employment. Mississippi’s poultry industry alone provides a total of 47,000 direct and indirect jobs.

19,600,000 acres
oF FoRESTLAnD wITh 125,000 FoREST LAnDownERS.
In 2011, poultry production was valued at $2.21 billion. The poultry industry employs 47,000 people.



$1.15 billion
AnD pRovIDES 39,500 jobS.

Source: mississippi State university






$2.7 billion

the mississippi poultry association is celebrating its

anniversary in 2012-13.


Mississippi has 126,000 horses with 72 public arenas.

263 acres


MISSISSIppI hAS 2,695 SoybEAn FARMS. SoybEAn pRoDUCTIon In 2011 wAS vALUED AT $860 MILLIon.

the value of forestry production in 2011







Fun on the
Mississippi agritourism destinations encourage visitors to connect with agriculture





the h arris Family ranch

Visitors to BlueJack Ridge Farms in Poplarville can enjoy the Western town with its saloon, general store and jail. Families can ride the cowboy run zipline, compete in the duck race or get lost in the corn maze.

attracts 20,000 people every October to a setting so remote that the nearby town installed its one and only traffic light just in the last decade. Most visitors travel at least an hour to take in the excitement at BlueJack Ridge Ranch, where kids ride ponies, hunt for gold rocks and “rope” calves. The cattle operation, located in Poplarville in southeast Mississippi, resembles a Western town, complete with saloon, general store and jail. It provides an outdoor experience designed to mimic farm and ranch activities in fun and interactive ways for kids, ages 3 to 12. “Every parent wants to expose their kids to something natural and something real that the agritourism industry has to offer – that good, clean, wholesome, hands-on learning about where our food comes from, about animals or spending the day outside in the sunshine,” says Kristi Harris, who owns the ranch with husband Darrin. She also runs an agritourism consulting business. “To me, agritourism is only on the peak of what it can be in the next 20 or 30 years. We’re just scratching the surface,” she says.




Photos by brian mccord

Agritourism, generally defined as entertainment on a working farm, is not only one of the fastest growing sectors in Mississippi agriculture and tourism, but nationwide as well. The agritourism industry has increased 30 percent compared to other tourism sectors in the United States, according to Mississippi State University. Mississippi landowners today offer experiences that range from day trip visits to a pumpkin patch to overnight lodging at a farmhouse bed-and-breakfast. To promote the many agritourism operations across the state, the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division founded the Mississippi Agritourism Trail. By fall 2012, the trail mapped 78 locations throughout the state that offer on-farm entertainment, says Michael Jones with the tourism division of the Mississippi Development Authority. The trail invites travelers to pick their way through Mississippi’s autumn corn mazes and pumpkin patches and enjoy the open air at U-pick gardens, wineries, orchards, petting zoos and farmers markets.

the buSineSS oF aGritouriSm

There are also festivals celebrating peanuts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon and catfish. Visitors can also tour aquaculture farms, buy a fresh Christmas tree or visit the state’s farm history museums. Mississippi’s Agritourism Trail includes a diverse mix of farms, historic plantations, country stores and museums that have evolved from residents’ relationships with the Mississippi soil. Mitchell Farms, a traditional rowcrop farm founded in 1955, added agritourism in 2006 to provide the income that keeps mom employed on the farm, too. Jo Lynn Mitchell married into the farming operation of her husband, Don, and his parents Dennis and Nelda Spell Mitchell. The family grows peaches, pumpkins, blueberries, peanuts, corn, wheat and soybeans on 1,500 acres. Today, thousands of people venture annually to their farmstead to enjoy a corn maze, pumpkin patch, petting zoo, train rides, farm-themed playground, fresh produce and farmgrown peanuts. The property includes three log cabins, including one dating from the 1800s. The farm also hosts weddings and corporate events in its banquet barn. About

The n U MbE R S:
outdoor recreation, which includes hunting, angling and wildlife watching, generates

annually and represents more than 71,000 mississippi jobs. agritainment (farm tours, corn mazes and u-pick produce) generates an estimated annual


agritourism has increased compared to other tourism sectors in the united States.


Source: Mississippi State University




Young visitors to Mitchell Farms in Collins go for a ride around the farm, where they can see agriculture all around them.

5,000 people attend the Mississippi Peanut Festival on the Mitchells’ property the first Saturday in October. Agritourism has increased their farm revenue by 30 percent, which keeps Jo Lynn on the farm and employs up to 20 people seasonally at a location 60 miles south of Jackson in Collins. “It just brings a lot of joy to have children and families coming out here,” she says. “We get a lot of positive response by email or on our Facebook page about the hospitality we show. I want people leaving our farm feeling like they got more than they paid for.” In summer 2012, the farm became the first to purchase a new, statesupported agritourism sign. The Mississippi Department of Transportation launched the sign program, similar to tourism-oriented directional signs, says Wes Dean, assistant chief engineer with the department. The brown-and-white signs direct customers off highways to farms with seasonal and yearround attractions. Farms pay an initial fee of $225 and then $100 annually to maintain the signs.

FoLLow the SiGnS

Darrin and Kristi Harris own BlueJack Ridge Ranch in Poplarville. They say their goal is to offer hands-on opportunities to learn about agriculture.

“More signs may pop up since passage of a state Senate bill that provides limited liability to people engaged in such activities. This new law gives landowners added liability protection, as long as they make sensible efforts to make their property secure and alert visitors to any recognized hazards,” says Donna West, division director in market development with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. To qualify, landowners must register their agritourism venues with the department. “We’re working hard to help agritourism grow while helping them to protect themselves,” West says. In fact, even current venues may grow. Both Mitchell Farms and BlueJack Ridge aspire to add more year-round attractions. For Mitchell Farms that may include more weddings, corporate events and family reunions. BlueJack Ridge is considering adding opportunities to bond with nature on their 400 acres, such as camping, hunting, trail walking and fishing. “When you’re living in the city, you often don’t have a place in the country to go to,” Harris says. “We advertise ourselves as ‘Your place in the country.’ ” – Joanie Stiers




Young visitors ride the “Lasso Loop” at BlueJack Ridge Farms in Poplarville.





More Mississippi Agritourism
Cedar Hill Farm Hernando, MS Enjoy a tractor ride around the farm, indulge in some freshly picked produce and participate in fun seasonal events. wise Family Farm Pontotoc, MS This farm is perfect for the kids, featuring wagon rides, campfire parties, a giant tractor tire swing, a farm barnyard and more. Adkins Farm Booneville, MS Known for their intricate corn maze, this farm also has pumpkin chunkin’, hayrides, farm games and a campfire.

Fiddlin Rooster Farm water valley, MS Visitors can take a cooking class, enjoy delicious homemade sweets from the bakery and roast marshmallows by the campfire.

Holley Farms Fulton, MS Learn about life on the farm. Navigate through a five-acre corn maze, play on the super slide zone and take flight on the rope swing.


jACKSon ChUnKy

Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum Jackson, MS Visitors can step back in time and discover how agriculture and forestry have molded the history and heritage of our state.


Lazy Acres Plantation Chunky, MS Kids and adults can stroll through the pumpkin patch and pick out a Christmas tree during the holiday season.

Swan Creek Farms Silver Creek, MS This farm is known for their petting zoo and waterfowl park, with exotic ducks, zebras, pheasants, peacocks, swans, camels and more.

Southern Promiseland Farms, Kiln, MS From farm animals and paintball to hayrides and a roping arena, this farm offers agriculture fun for all ages.

Seward Farms Lucedale, MS This inviting family farm boasts pig races every Saturday afternoon, pony rides, a corn cannon and a giant jumping pillow.





Once the logs are cut, they are loaded onto a truck for transport to the local sawmill or wood chipper. From there, a tree that once stood tall is turned into a wide variety of products.

When trees reach maturity, landowners begin harvesting. Some contract out to independent logging companies, while others run a private harvesting operation. Trees are cut using several different methods, including clearcut, shelterwood cut, seed tree harvest and group selection.

These renewable resources can be grown, harvested, replanted and harvested again, all while providing clean air and wildlife habitat. After harvest, landowners sow seeds and plant seedlings to rebuild their forests. Conservation management involves thinning, burning and planting to create stronger, healthier habitats.




Mississippi forest landowners harvest and regrow timber acreage
The nUMbER S:
Forests cover 19.6 million acres of mississippi.

Tall, Tall


the timber industry earns between $1.3 and $1.5 billion in forestry and forest products each year.


there are 125,000 forest landowners in mississippi.

125,000 125,000

the forestry industry provides more than 125,000 jobs in mississippi.

Sources: Mississippi Forestry Commission and Mississippi State University




Photo by brian mccord

russell Bozeman takes a

step back and admires a stately cypress tree, standing tall and sturdy in the swampy Mississippi land. The tree is more than three decades old and soon the time will come to reap its rewards. Stories like this are common for Mississippi loggers and landowners. “Forestry is really big in Mississippi,” says Bozeman, director of forest protection and forestry information for the Mississippi Forestry Commission. “Almost 20 million acres across the state of Mississippi are covered in trees. That’s a very large land area and a very large economic impact.” The commission estimates that the timber industry earns between $1.3 and $1.5 billion from forestry and forest products every year. This is especially impactful due to the nature of tree growth in the state.

“You can just walk away from a tract of land and trees are going to grow. It’s just the way it is,” says Bozeman. “We grow trees here in Mississippi. That being said, forestry and forest management have become an essential part of this.” Roughly 70 to 80 percent of the harvested forests in Mississippi are owned by nonindustrial private forest landowners – everyday people who own forest land. These landowners harvest, on average, 50 acres of trees every year. So, not only do these private forest landowners own the majority of the harvested forest land, they also make up most of those involved in the forestry and timber industry in the state. “The way forestry works is, if there are trees on the property, there are industries inside Mississippi and outside who will use that resource,”

Bozeman says. “This can be anything from fiber production to make everyday household products, like toilet paper and writing materials, to structural uses such as lumber and furniture.” While many are familiar with using timber to make paper products and for construction, the Mississippi forestry industry is creating modern uses for timber and wood products. “We have some innovative technology uses when it comes to biofuels that can be produced for larger markets in Mississippi and throughout the southeastern United States,” says Bozeman. “Everything from wood pellets that can keep furnaces running – and some people are even working to develop biofuels you can use in vehicles like an oilbased product. But the ultimate uses for timber and wood products




“ Almost 20 million acres across the state
are covered in trees. That’s a very large land area and a very large economic impact.

” ruSSell BozeMAn –

A forest in Flora, MS, will soon be harvested for timber. More than 70 percent of the harvested forests in Mississippi are owned by private landowners.

depend on the market and depend on the trees.” Once a landowner decides to log his property, he may either harvest the trees himself or contract out to a logging company. When the bidder is selected, the logging process begins. A carefully choreographed dance is the only way to ensure a safe and effective process. Foresters who work in the area go through the land and mark the border of trees with a florescent strip of paint to clearly select the tree or trees for harvesting. Lumberjacks in flannel shirts and overalls may come to mind, but just as the timber industry has changed, so has logging. Axes are no longer the main tool of the trade. Rodney Zimmerman, a contract logger, arrives at a logging site in khakis with a pencil and clipboard

timber aS a trade

in hand, making sure to steer clear of the massive machines around him. One employee runs a Bell Harvester, a huge, hydraulic cutter that is safer than chainsaws. A giant claw clamps onto the base of a tree, and the harvester cuts the trunk. The tree is lifted overhead onto a platform and cut to the desired length. A blur of saws and flying bark surround these loggers day in and day out. One wrong step could result in more than a lost tree. “Logging is the most dangerous job in the world,” says Zimmerman. “People are maimed, crushed or disfigured every year.” Once the logs are cut, they are loaded onto a truck for transport to the local sawmill or wood chipper. From there, a tree that once stood tall is turned into anything from a whiskey barrel to wooden chips for mulch. This diversity provides a major economic impact in terms

of jobs for Mississippians. The forestry industry alone employs 125,000 people in the state, according to the Forest and Wildlife Research Center at Mississippi State University. Almost 41,000 of those are employed in timber production.

Forestry and timber have an unparalleled impact in Mississippi and show tremendous potential for growth in the future. And after that cypress tree Bozeman worked so feverously to protect is cut down, another will be planted in its place. And in another 30 or so years, it too will be ready for harvest. To learn more, visit the Missisisippi Forestry Commission online at – Beverly Kruel

GrowinG an induStry and economy





rows of

Photos by todd bennett and brian mccord

Soybeans rank among the state’s top commodities

mississippi’s lanDscape has transFormeD in the

past decade. Urban acres aren’t the only areas seeing change, crops that grow on farms across the state have evolved as well. Where cotton used to lead the charge, many farmers have turned to corn and soybeans. “We don’t have the number of cotton gins in this state, but our grain elevators have picked up and expanded,” says Trent Irby, soybean specialist for the Mississippi State University Agriculture Extension Service. “Driving down the road, it’s corn and soybeans everywhere you look.” The numbers don’t lie: Soybeans have climbed to the top of Mississippi’s list of leading crops. Soybeans grow in more than half of the cultivated cropland in Mississippi, and a 2012 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates two million acres of soybeans are grown in Mississippi, up from 1.4 million acres in 2002. Soybeans have long been part of the state’s agriculture landscape but were previously grown more as a rotational crop than a primary contributor to the state economy. However, as the value of cotton decreases, many farmers have switched to soybeans to stay profitable.




With the close river and barge access, Irby says Mississippi is well placed for exporting soybeans. Unlike the more traditional grain states, Mississippi has direct access to international ports and can move soybeans more quickly from field to elevator and from elevator to ocean. Willard Jack’s farm is located between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, a prime spot for export with a product that international consumers prefer. With his family and crew, he grows 3,000-3,500 acres per year of solely soybeans, depending on the year and the crop mix. In addition to that, they grow 2,200 acres of corn, 1,000 acres of cotton, 600-700 acres of rice and about 400 acres of wheat on their farm in Belzoni, Miss. “We’ve always grown a lot of soybeans,” Jack says. “We’re growing more corn and less cotton because of the price, and more soybeans and less rice because of the price.” Scientists and farmers are always testing different seeds to determine

the VaLue oF SoybeanS

chanGeS in GrowinG

Jeremy and Willard Jack grow a variety of crops, including soybeans, on their farm in Belzoni, which is located in the Mississippi Delta region. The father-and-son team grows up to 3,500 acres of soybeans each year in addition to other crops such as corn, cotton, rice and wheat, pictured above.




how to grow the best crops, but one of the biggest changes affecting soybean yield came from planting earlier. In 2012, 50 percent of the soybean crop was planted by the end of April, and what wasn’t planted was rotated behind winter wheat and had to wait. The early planting allows the soybeans to grow before insects descend in late summer and avoids the typical August drought. That’s what Jack has learned in his years growing soybeans in the Delta. With the earlier planting, Jack says he saw a dramatic increase in yield and was able to avoid expensive irrigation during late summer. He started growing soybeans in Mississippi in 1980 after moving from Canada, where he’d been growing the crop for nearly a decade. The climate, chance for a larger box of land and quality infrastructure encouraged him to move south. In the years he has built up the farm, Jack has seen vast changes in local farming practices. Many

soybeans today are irrigated and he says they’ve adopted a lot of new technologies, such as changing seed varieties to better suit the conditions. “We just do a better job overall of raising a better crop,” he says. But he knows that didn’t come easy. The farmers who ventured into soybeans decades ago worked to raise yields and looked at what would improve the industry. That has included new seed treatments and insect resistance that prove more valuable for farmers in Mississippi who have bigger problems with seed rot and insects compared to their northern counterparts. “It didn’t just happen,” Jack says. “Thirty to 40 years ago, they had a vision of what we needed to have soybeans profitable in the future.” Increased yields have created an industry Jack sees as growing in the future. “As long as we have 60 percent to 70 percent yield potential on irrigated soybeans, we’re hard to compete with,” he says. – Sonja Belland

73 million
bushels were harvested in 2011.


the Future oF SoybeanS

of soybeans were grown in Mississippi in 2012.

2 million acres

Over 50% of the cultivated cropland in Mississippi is soybeans.

the value of soybean production increased by

$14 million
from 2010 to 2011.
The Jacks use cutting-edge technology and sustainable farming practices as part of their operation.

Source: Mississippi State University





Tunnel Vision
inds County farmer Cindy Ayers is sold on high tunnels. The one-time New York City investment banker is counting on the greenhouselike structures to keep her new operation in the black. Ayers established her 99-acre Foot Print Farms near Jackson in March 2011. The following December she installed a 2,100-square-foot high tunnel. High tunnels, sometimes called hoop houses, are arch-shaped structures consisting of a plastic or metal frame covered by greenhouse-grade polyethylene. They can be as small as 20 feet by 30 feet, or large enough to cover a half-acre. High tunnels trap solar heat inside the structure during daylight hours. Farmers can regulate internal temperatures by opening or closing side and end panels. The process is ecofriendly and disregards the use of fossil fuels. “It gives you a longer growing period,” Ayers says. “You can almost have four seasons of crops. I take one month out to allow the soil to rejuvenate.” Built adjacent to a tennis court where raised beds have replaced nets and racquets, Ayers jokingly calls her high tunnel the Serena Williams Tennis garden. It may be experimental, but it’s no joke. “This is a major project,” she says. “It’s not a hobby.” Within the freestanding structure, Ayers raises broccoli, squash, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs and other produce. She sells to restaurants, farmers markets and direct to consumers. The high tunnel supports Ayers’ farming methods by creating an

High tunnels help farmers improve products and profits


environment in which vital nutrients are kept in the soil, runoff is curtailed and pest issues decreased. Protected from rain, foliage is safe from excess moisture often resulting in disease. In typical high tunnel practices, weeds are minimized through the use of plastic mulch and drip irrigation. Results are better quality products, higher yields and greater grower profits. High tunnels provide growers with the competitive advantage of marketing products in the shoulder seasons when others can’t. Ayers purchased her structure with help from a U. S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-sharing program. For the past five years, Bill Evans and guihong Bi have researched high tunnels from their base at the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Branch experiment station at the Central Mississippi Research

and Extension Center near Crystal Springs. They’ve introduced state growers to the benefits of the structures for raising cut flowers and vegetables. “In Mississippi, we’ve gone from seeing five or six high tunnels a few years ago to over 300,” Evans says. “And growth has not slowed.” The structures are most practical for the small to mediumsized grower, according to Bi. Bi’s focus is cut flowers. She finds high tunnels allow producers to grow flowers, like zinnias, sunflowers and snapdragons, at a higher density and protect the plants from wind and storm damage. “They are better quality and have a better yield when compared to field products,” she says. While high tunnels have proven beneficial, the producer’s degree of success ultimately depends on the type of crop and crop management practices, Bi adds. – Sally Barber

Photo courtesy of msu-mafes sPecial research initiative





Cotton farmers opt for corn to increase profitability, reduce erosion
cotton’s reign as mississippi’s
supreme cash crop ended more than five years ago, when soaring grain prices enticed farmers to clear the way for two other crops – soybeans and corn. Since 2007, many farmers have either abandoned or planted significantly fewer acres of the whiteblooming plant that dominated the landscape for more than 150 years, while corn yields have increased faster than any other crop in the state. Experts anticipate another tough year ahead for cotton, as many farmers continue to replace the crop with corn and soybeans, which are cheaper to grow and, thanks to favorable commodity prices, more profitable for many, says Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist at the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service. “Historically, cotton has always kind of paid the bills,” Dodds says. “Cotton has always been a crop you could make money on when grain prices weren’t as good as they are today. You can still make money on cotton, but the profit margin is not as wide.” In 2007, Mississippi farmers cut cotton production nearly in half, planting about 660,000 acres of the crop, compared with 1.2 million acres in 2006. Meanwhile, corn acreage jumped from 340,000 acres in 2006 to 930,000 in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Photo by jeff adkins








Commodity markets drove much of the shift as grain prices rose. But pest and weed management pressure among cotton crops, particularly in the Delta region, also played a role, Dodds says. Among those still devoting acres to cotton is 28-year-old farmer Tyler Huerkamp of Macon. Huerkamp, who graduated from Mississippi State University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, farms 2,250 acres in Noxubee County with his father. Together, they maintain a

cotton opportunitieS remain

50-50 cotton-and-corn rotation – a method Huerkamp says his father has used since the late 1980s to help improve cotton yields. “Corn harvest leaves behind crop residue that helps combat erosion and build organic matter in the soil,” Huerkamp says. Although cotton production has dropped statewide, Huerkamp says a better consistency, higher yielding cotton crop has pushed farmers to increase acreage in east central Mississippi and west central Alabama in recent years. After years of discussion and planning, Huerkamp and 24 other

area farmers, including his father, formed the Bogue Chitto gin, Inc. and opened a new $7 million cotton gin in Noxubee County in October 2012. The state-of-the-art facility can gin 60 bales of cotton per hour, and investors expect the new gin to create three to five full-time jobs and about 20 seasonal jobs. Before the new facility opened, Huerkamp says the closest operating gin was 65 miles from his farm. High transportation costs ate away at potential profits for him and other farmers who faced similar costly commutes. The recent rise in corn prices




“ Corn harvest leaves behind

crop residue that helps battle soil erosion.

– tyler huerkAMP

prompted Huerkamp and his father to invest more time and money in their cornfields than they have in the past. “If we didn’t just build a gin, I would say we might have planted more corn,” Huerkamp says. “But we’re not going to have these (grain) prices forever. What goes up must come down.” Corn acreage statewide has hovered near 900,000 since its initial jump in 2007, says Erick Larson, corn specialist with the MSU Extension Service.

combininG cropS

Tyler Huerkamp farms more than 2,000 acres of cotton with his father in Noxubee County. The family recently joined forces with other area farmers to build a state-of-the-art cotton gin, which can gin 60 bales of cotton per hour. It also contributes to economic development and job creation for the county.

Photos by brian mccord




“Mississippi farmers typically plant corn in late March to early April and harvest it from mid-August to mid-September,” Larson says. Cotton’s growing season begins shortly after that, with farmers typically planting the crop in midApril and harvesting it from midto late September into October and sometimes November depending on the year, Dodds says. Corn improves soil quality and is easier and cheaper to grow than cotton and soybeans. However, it’s also compatible with those crops, Larson says. Corn can also reduce reliance on some of the specialty equipment that cotton requires. Farmers can use a combine to harvest both soybeans and corn by switching out a removable head designed for each crop. Cotton growers must use a separate machine, the cotton picker, for harvest. Along with high commodity prices, ethanol use has also greatly enhanced

corn’s marketing potential in recent years, Dodds says. After its stark decline in 2007, cotton acreage continued to plummet, hitting 305,000 in 2009. The crop rebounded partially in 2011, when global demand pushed cotton prices to record highs, Dodds says. Mississippi farmers planted 630,000 acres that year, but acreage fell to 470,000 in 2012, and Dodds says he “would not be shocked” to see acreage decline an additional 30 to 40 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, soybean acreage has also risen. In 2011, Mississippi farmers planted approximately 1.8 million acres of soybeans and harvested nearly 73 million bushels. That totaled $860 million in production value, making it the state’s top row crop, according to the MSU Extension Service. “I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to the cotton acreage we once had,” Dodds says. “But I don’t ever see it totally going away or becoming an afterthought.” – Juliann Vachon

Photo by brian mccord

In recent years, corn acreage has increased in Mississippi, largely due to higher grain prices and reduced input costs, as compared to cotton.

Photo by jeff adkins




LEADiNg iNDuSTRiES in two years cotton acreage went from 1,230,000 in 2006 to 365,000 in 2008. that’s a decrease of more than



From 2006-2007, corn acreage increased by more than 174%, while cotton acreage decreased by more than 46%.

90,860,000 bushels of corn were produced in 2011 with the value of production at $595 million.
decline of cotton acreage began in 2007 when it was cut almost in half from 1.2 million acres to

bales of cotton were produced in 2011 with a value of production at $600 million.


From 2007-2008 cotton acreage was almost cut in half again when acreage decreased to

660,000. 365,000.


Mississippi has 760 cotton farms, with production mostly located in the Delta Region of the state.
Sources: Mississippi State University and USDA-NASS




Health/Nutrition Benefits
• Rice is sodium and cholesterol free and contains no saturated or trans fats • Rice is gluten free and the least allergenic of all grains • Rice is nutrient dense and contributes more than 15 vitamins and minerals including folate and other B-vitamins, iron, and zinc • Brown rice is 100% whole grain, a 1-cup serving provides two of three recommended daily servings • FDA says that diets rich in whole grain foods such as brown rice and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers

• Research shows that people who eat rice have healthier diets than nonrice eaters, eat more vegetables, less fat, and have a lower risk for high blood pressure and obesity • Rice is comprised of complex carbohydrates that are more slowly digested

Economic Benefits
• On average, approximately 200,000 acres of rice are grown in Mississippi each year • It has an average farm gate value of approximately $200 million • Rice milling adds an additional $350 million in value • The rice industry directly and indirectly supplies approximately 4,000 jobs in Mississippi

Wildlife & Conservation
• Waste rice is one of the most abundant food resources for migratory waterfowl (provides high level of carbohydrates for animals to stay warm and fuel for extended flight times) • Rice straw provides a regular and dependable substrate for invertebrates and insects that are critical food resources for waterfowl (provides protein for ducks to build back-up muscle content for long flights home in the spring after a long winter). And more importantly it provides one of the most important sources of protein for females to begin egg development for successful reproduction.

Mississippi Rice Promotion Board P.O. Box 257 Stoneville, MS 38776 (662) 822-8609

• Flooded rice fields provide excellent habitat for migratory waterfowl seeking rest, refuge and/or food. This also helps reduce the amount of herbicides/pesticides needed to produce rice • Rice fields are essential man-made wetlands that process nutrients very effectively (rice production is not a major contributor to Gulf Hypoxia)


A Mississippi Staple
Delta region produces near record rice yields
Wagner would like to see the United States open rice exports to Cuba. “We’re the closest market to Cuba, with the exception of Carolina gold, and we’re the most eastern producer in the United States,” he says. Most of Mississippi’s 341 rice farms are located in the northwest part of the state. Top producing counties are Bolivar, Coahoma, Humphreys, Leflore, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tunica and Washington. Nearly 100 percent of the farms grow the widely popular long-grain rice. “The soils are conducive to rice production, and we have access to water that gives us the capacity to grow rice,” Buehring says. Rice is planted in the Delta ultitudes worldwide rely on rice as a staple food source. The crop is equally vital to Mississippi, historically accounting for more than $200 million annually in production value. One of six rice-producing states, Mississippi’s 2012 rice crop survived Hurricane Isaac’s fury and was spared from the season’s drought. The year produced a near-record yield of 160 bushels per acre. But fewer planted acres dropped the state rank as the country’s fourth largest rice producer to fifth. “We were down to around 130,000 acres,” says Nathan Buehring, rice specialist at the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Historically, we average 250,000 acres.” Because market prices have favored corn and soybeans, farmers dedicated fewer acres to rice production in 2011 and 2012, putting Mississippi production behind Arkansas, California, Louisiana and Missouri. Still, Mississippi’s 2012 crop yielded 18.7 million bushels with prices ranging between $6.25 and $6.50 per bushel. global influences are a major factor in the crop’s future. About half of Mississippi’s rice crop is exported to Mexico, guatemala and other Central and South American countries. “We’ve had a problem with other people slipping in and taking our market share,” says Mike Wagner, Tallahatchie County rice farmer and former president of the Mississippi Rice Council. “We hope to regain our share this year.”


beginning in April and continuing through mid-May. A dry seeded method is used with field flooding taking place after seedlings set. Harvest occurs late August through October. Farmers use a combine to cut stalks and strip rice grain from the plant. After the harvest, farmers become conservationists. They flood the rice fields in late fall to help break down any remaining plants. The flooded, shallow fields provide food and wintering grounds for waterfowl and shorebirds following the Mississippi Flyway. In return, the wetland-dependent birds crush the rice straw, furthering its decomposition and helping prepare the fields for the next season’s planting. – Sally Barber




From Pond to Plate

mississippi Feed mills

Delta Western • Fishbelt Feeds • Land O’ Lakes
mississippi Processors
America’s Catch, Itta Bena Consolidated Catfish, Isola Freshwater Farms, Belzoni Heartland Catfish, Itta Bena Lake’s Catfish, Dundee Pride of the Pond, Tunica Prime Line, Scooba Simmons Catfish, Yazoo City Superior Catfish, Macon

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reeling in the Market
Mississippi catfish farmers prosper through innovation, despite threat of outside markets




in many parts oF the country, the worDs

catfish and Mississippi conjure up images of Huck Finn, cane poles and long, lazy afternoons on the riverbank. But to those who actually work in the state’s aquaculture industry, growing and processing the delicious delicacy, catfish conjure up images of underwater livestock. More than 400 million pounds of catfish are farmed from hundreds of acres of ponds every year in the United States, and much of that is in Mississippi, a state where the clay soils and near-the-surface aquifers combine to make a perfect environment for aquaculture. Many of those fish are grown and processed at Simmons Farm Raised Catfish Farm, Inc. in Yazoo City, where the owner, Harry Simmons, has been farming catfish since 1976. His farm employs more than 300 people and processes 18 to 25 million pounds of catfish annually from the region. Simmons got into the business more than 30 years ago because he was looking for something more stable than row crops. Aquaculture is capital-intense, so it took the right combination of factors to make it work. “What interested me in catfish production is that catfish were pretty well suited to the farm I had with heavy clay soil that wasn’t so good for other crops. It allowed me to do something with that land that would give me a better return.” His company has moved more and more toward the processing of area catfish over the years rather than just strictly growing them, but he still grows quite a bit and loves every aspect of what he does. “There are new challenges every day,” he says. “It’s a great product. I like selling it. We have some good customers who have been with us a long time.” Despite his love of the business, those challenges have grown for him and for much of the industry. Over the last few years, as tariffs on foreign catfish have been lifted, cheaper catfish from Vietnam have flooded the U.S. market. The introduction of millions of pounds of fish from Vietnam amounts to unfair competition, many U.S. catfish farmers say. That influx of fish, combined with a troubled economy, high fuel prices and high feed prices, has pushed many catfish farmers out of the business all together. So the market dropped from more than 600 million pounds at its peak to 400 million in 2012, Simmons says. It might be a struggle to keep the numbers even that high in the future. “We’re battling to preserve this market,” Simmons says. “The drought this year has just made it all worse.” The downturn in catfish farming is particularly discouraging because it comes at a time when catfish farmers are making huge strides in innovation,

introducinG a new crop

FiGhtinG For the market

staff Photo



Superior CatfiSh … A New Level of Quality

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Workers at Simmons Farm-Raised Catfish in Yazoo City process 18 to 25 million pounds of catfish annually.

technology and efficiency. Farmers are learning how to grow healthier fish on less acreage. It’s also discouraging because many catfish farmers think U.S. customers would choose American catfish over cheap imports if they knew more about the import issue. “The biggest reason to choose U.S. catfish: Every catfish you get in the United States is inspected by the U.S. Department of Commerce,” Simmons says. “Of the fish that are imported, fewer than two percent are actually inspected by the Food and Drug Administration when they come into this country. And there’s a tremendous volume coming into the country.” “From the standpoint of food safety, I would rather buy from this country than I would from somewhere else,” he says. He expects attitudes about where food comes from to change even more in the coming years. For one thing, the catfish industry has lobbied hard to reverse those tariff

decisions and draw attention to the issue. He also thinks the local food movement has pushed people to look for seafood harvested close to home. In addition, he thinks consumers are beginning to look at food differently because of scares about food produced in some other countries. “While you might not need to know where your clothes are made, when it comes to a food item you need to be a little more skeptical about where it came from and how it was grown and packed,” he says. Roger Barlow, president of the U.S. Catfish Institute in Jackson, MS, agrees that Americans should question catfish imports. “The product that’s coming into this country should be safe for the consumers,” Barlow says. “I don’t think there’s enough inspection of imported fish. That’s not protectionism. It’s agriculture 101.” Barlow says he sees a number of challenges facing the industry. But

Photos by brian mccord

SuStainabLe aGricuLture

he also sees innovation that will help farmers who have stayed in the business prosper. In addition to farming technology, chefs have begun to pay even more attention to catfish. Americans love fried catfish, but consumers and chefs are appreciating it more and more as a versatile food that is cut and prepared a myriad of ways. “I think once consumers taste our product, we’ve got them hooked,” Barlow says. The farming industry and U.S. consumers will continue to seek out alternative crops and food from sustainable sources, he says, and that bodes well for catfish. Ocean fish stocks are threatened with overharvesting as the world population grows. Aquaculture provides some solutions. “I think aquaculture is the ag frontier for the foreseeable future.” For more information on the catfish industry, visit – Chris Poore




A Freshwater Market
Farmers find success in growing freshwater prawns
says. “A catfish farmer sends fish to the plant. That’s his responsibility and that’s it. The prawn is a niche market. The individual producers market their own prawns. Some people are more comfortable with marketing and some are not. But once they get the word out about the prawns, they pretty well sell themselves.” Fratesi has become a sort of spokeswoman for the relatively small freshwater prawn industry. She tells her audiences that their flavor and texture is more delicate than saltwater shrimp – something closer to lobster. Fratesi is also eager to tell people that prawns fit in well with the local food movement. Currently, most freshwater prawns are sold direct to customers, either pond-side at the time of harvest or through other local sales. Prawns meet most definitions of sustainable seafood. They don’t deplete naturally occurring resources, and they never require the use of chemicals. As concerns grow over depleting ocean fish stocks, customers are seeking out sustainable alternatives. A freshwater shrimp farmer needs to be as comfortable in front of a camera or crowd as she is wading into a muck-filled pond. Dolores Fratesi, co-owner of the Lauren Farms catfish and prawn operation in Leland, learned that lesson as soon as she and her husband Steve hooked up with Mississippi State University to launch one of the state’s first freshwater prawn businesses in 2001. Turn on the television on any given Tuesday in the Mississippi Delta, and there’s Fratesi cooking up freshwater crustaceans on the morning news program. You’ll also find her at county fairs, trade shows and even at a national conference on sustainable foods and aquaculture in California, too. Fratesi travels the South and beyond with one goal in mind: to educate people about freshwater shrimp. The biggest obstacle in freshwater shrimp farming “is the marketing of the product,” Fratesi Prawns offer some clear benefits for the farmer. The growing cycle is only 120 days or four months. Farms can average between 750 and 1,000 pounds of shrimp an acre. Prawns also do well in smaller ponds – an acre or half acre. The viability of the industry also depends on the ability to raise prawns to a juvenile stage and provide them to farmers who are raising them. Testing with Mississippi State proved Lauren Farms could provide juvenile prawns to area farmers, which is now a large part of their business. Fratesi has enjoyed the business, both in her public role and on the farm. She likes that Lauren Farms is on the forefront of a relatively new industry. “My husband saw a need for a large-scale, viable seafood source that’s sustainable and nonpolluting,” she says. “So far, it’s been an adventure.” Learn more about Lauren Farms at – Chris Poore

a GrowinG induStry

marketinG prawnS

P.O. Box 9815 Mississippi State, MS 39762 (662) 325-1689 Email:








Poultry ProsPers
Top agriculture industry continues to grow
no inDustry can proviDe protein For
humans at such a reasonable cost as the poultry industry, Mark Leggett says. The president of the Mississippi Poultry Association is proud to point out that poultry continues to be Mississippi’s top commodity, and farm gate impact numbers – the amount paid to farmers for raising chickens – have been above $2 billion every year since 2000. “Our state produces chicken for Mississippi residents and also ships to other U.S. states, plus we export to 60 foreign countries,” Leggett says. “Mississippi poultry is well positioned to feed growing populations throughout the world.” According to the United Nations, the rapidly growing world population will be consuming two-thirds more animal protein by 2050 than it does today. Mississippi already exports more than $300 million annually in poultry sales, with its biggest foreign customers being Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong, Angola and Cuba. “Poultry in Mississippi accounts for 55,000 direct and indirect jobs, with wages and salaries at around $1.2 billion,” Leggett says. “This state is home to six of the largest chicken broiler companies in the country – Koch Foods, Marshall Durbin Company, Peco Foods, Sanderson Farms, Tyson Foods and Wayne Farms. Plus Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg processor in the world, is based in Mississippi.” There are 2,000 poultry growers in the state that sell products and services to the six big companies. Among them is Danny Thornton, a Leake County farmer who was raised in the broiler business in central Mississippi. Thornton is considered an expert in the poultry industry, with 37 years of experience that included teaching agriculture at Mississippi State University in the Department of Poultry Science until his retirement in 2012. “Today, I raise pullets (young female chickens before they become hens) for Peco Foods on my Leake County farm,” Thornton says. “As for changes in the industry over my career, the biggest I’ve seen occurred 15 years ago with major advancements in technology for chicken production.” Thornton points out that one of those advancements was the upgrade of chicken houses, with today’s houses powered almost entirely by computers. “Ventilation fans, heaters, air inlets, cooling pads, feeders and drinkers are all set by computers that run the farm,” Thornton says. “The computers change the indoor temperatures as seasons change, and even record water usage, feed usage, chicken weights and more. But a producer must stay close to the farm to make sure the



Poultry accounts for 55,000 jobs, with wages and salaries at around $1.2 billion.

computers are running correctly, or you could quickly lose an entire operation.” On average, a new broiler house measures 500 feet long by 45 feet wide and costs $200,000 fully equipped. Typically, 25,000 birds are raised in each house and it takes one full-time worker to manage the facility, with the chickens reaching market size in about six weeks. “I spent $200,000 back in 2000 to update my chicken house with computer controls, and I truly needed to spend that much to have my farm run optimally and exactly,” Thornton says. He adds that central Mississippi is a perfect geographic location for poultry production, with the hot and warm weather ideal for raising chicks and chickens. “Central Mississippi is also close to the gulf of Mexico and its shipping lanes to Europe and Asia,” he says. “Poultry keeps a lot of small Mississippi counties alive, especially in the central part of the state.” The industry has become so advanced that basically every part of the chicken is used for consumption – even the feet. “Chicken feet are called paws, and in foreign markets, they are sold as a delicacy,” Thornton says. “In this country, the paws and other parts of the chicken are rendered as a protein fat source in animal feed ingredients. Very few parts of the chicken aren’t utilized these days.” And even though demand for chicken seems to be growing more each year – especially in developing countries – the prices in the United States don’t change drastically. “If you look at chicken and egg prices from the 1960s and 1970s, they really don’t differ much from the prices in 2013,” Thornton says. “You can still get a dozen eggs for $1.50 and a pound of chicken breast for around $2. Plus – as we all know in the industry – it’s the purest protein source a human can eat.” – Kevin Litwin

hot and warm weather


the number of foreign countries that receive their chicken from mississippi


Chicken feet, called paws, are sold as a delicacy to foreign markets.

the number of birds typically raised in each broiler house


of mississippi-grown poultry products are exported each year.



no waSte

Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg processor in the world, is based in Mississippi.
Source: Mississippi Poultry Association




If you look at “ and egg priceschicken from the 1960s and 1970s, they really don’t differ much from the prices in 2013.

– dAnny thornton

Photos by brian mccord

Danny Thornton of Carthage, MS, has more than 37 years of experience in the poultry industry.




Strong demand brings a surge in Mississippi peanut production


past year, production has surged to a 70-year high. “We actually have reported through the FSA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency) office this year over 48,000 acres,” says Malcolm Broome, executive director of the Mississippi Peanut growers Association (MPgA). That’s a nearly threefold increase over 2011. Broome says the MPgA was formed in 2006 by mostly growers in the southeast corner of the state who had been growing peanuts since before the 2002 Federal Farm Bill ended the quota system limiting each farmer’s acreage. The organization established a $2.50 per ton promotion and research check off through the State Legislature, which set up a Peanut Promotion Board. This six member board is appointed by the governor with rotating terms. “We’ve been expanding quite a bit,” says Broome, “doing a lot of educational activities with the Diabetes Foundation, School Nutrition Association and Mississippi Dietetic Association. We have participated in a number of humanitarian activities with the tornado activity in Mississippi, the Haiti earthquake and several individual batches of peanuts given to food banks.”

peanuts are Big Business in mississippi, anD over the




Photo by todd bennett





The growth in 2012 production was almost entirely in the Mississippi Delta region, which Broome says produced more peanuts than the rest of the state. In 2011, Mississippi welcomed a new purchaser, Oklahoma-based Clint Williams Peanut Co., which built buying stations in Clarksdale and greenwood. Broome says until 2009, northeast Mississippi producers had to go all the way to a buying station in Alabama, but the Birdsong Corp. established a buying point that year at Aberdeen. golden Peanut Co. has also established a buying point in Tchula. Don Respess, Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service director for Coahoma County, says the $750 per ton price induced Coahoma growers to raise several thousand acres in 2012, twenty years after disease forced them out of the business. “We traditionally grew 6,000-7,000 acres of peanuts in Coahoma County and had a place in Jonestown where we dried and stored them,” he says. Respess is hoping farmers will keep growing peanuts there despite declining prices. Most of the growers in Mississippi produce for commercial processors, but Monticello’s Lowe Peanut Farm sells directly to the consumer and retailer. Their consultant, Trey Bullock, says the Lowe family added peanuts to their rotation about 12 years ago because the corn and cotton they were growing weren’t profitable.

hope For continued Growth




Photos by brian mccord

At Mississippi State University, Meredith Harper, above, and plant pathology professor Dr. Alan Henn, bottom left, test samples of peanuts at the R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center in Starkville. Thanks to research on diseases that affect peanuts, as well as several other factors, peanut production in the state has surged in recent years. In fact, the 2012 crop almost tripled the previous year’s amount, making it Mississippi’s largest peanut crop in nearly 70 years.

“We sat down one day and asked them the question, ‘What can we do to make some money?’ and I just threw out, ‘green peanuts,’ ” Bullock says, which are the type of peanut suitable for boiling. The Lowes grow a long-seeded Virginia cultivar that they sell in 32-pound sacks from their shop and to local stores. “It’s been one of those things that they just kind of start selling themselves,” says Bullock. They rotate peanuts with other crops and only grow peanuts on the same ground one out of four years. Acreage has been a little lower in recent years, but not due to lack of demand; it’s because they’re growing more corn and soybeans, which reached record prices in 2012. Peanuts and soybeans cannot be rotated on the same ground because they are subject to the same diseases. Among those diseases are early

maintaininG a heaLthy crop

and late leaf spot, southern blight, limb rot and pod rot. If it’s hot and dry, the organism that produces aflatoxin is also a threat. “Peanuts are a leguminous crop, so they have a fair amount of nutrition inside the plant, which makes them a favorable target for many diseases,” says Dr. Alan Henn, Mississippi State University professor of plant pathology. However, Mississippi growers have not faced as many challenges as have farmers in more established peanut areas. Many Mississippi farmers grow georgia-06g, a variety with some resistance to leaf spot. The disease defoliates plants, but in Mississippi, it has appeared too late in the season to reduce yields. The other pathogens can be controlled by fungicides. Henn notes crop protection chemicals can be expensive. “Once a disease gets going, it can be somewhat difficult to stop inside the peanut. It requires a lot of care

and management,” he says. In areas where peanuts have been established for a number of years, there’s often a standard 7-10 day spray schedule throughout the season until harvest. The equipment outlay is high, too. Broome says it’s a $700,000 investment for an individual farmer. Most of the implements can only be used for peanuts, so farmers will need to continue to grow the crop to recoup their investments. But Broome is hopeful that Mississippi production will keep growing. “We’ve got enough land that’s suitable for peanuts that we could easily handle 100,000 acres or so each year on a rotation program. At some point in the future, there’s been talk that a couple of these companies would like to move to a cleaning and shelling plant, but I think they’ll want to see four to five years of growth in Mississippi before they’d commit to that.” – Gary DiGiuseppe




new acres of peanuts in 2012.

three counties alone accounted for

Peanuts are grown on the same ground 1 out of 4 years.

The 2012 crop of peanuts was the largest since 1943.

due to low texas yields last year, peanut prices per ton went as high as

MonRoE hoLMES yAzoo



ThE Top pEAnUT pRoDUCInG CoUnTIES In MISSISSIppI ARE: 1. hoLMES 2. GEoRGE 3. pAnoLA 4. yAzoo 5. MonRoE
In 2011, Mississippi producers led the nation in yield with an average 4,200 pounds per acre.

pEAnUT pRICES TypICALLy RUn $400 To $500 pER Ton, bUT ThEy hAvE bEEn GETTInG AS hIGh AS $750 pER Ton.

58.5 m $16 m
and $4 million above 2010.


pounds of peanuts were produced in 2011, a value of

Sources: Mississippi State University and USDA-NASS




Cow Country

Beef cattle industry continues to boost state economy

D.R. Bozeman, a third-generation farmer, raises some 500 head of beef cows on his farm in Flora, MS.

nearly a million cattle graze in mississippi’s 82

counties, generating jobs, income and food as broadly as any farm product. The state’s cattle and calves ranked seventh among the highest valued agricultural commodities in 2011, according to Mississippi State University. More than 17,000 farms, from small to large, earn a livelihood from beef cattle in Mississippi, which is blessed with a climate ideal for year-round grazing and a diverse forage base with highly adapted grasses. “We’re well-suited for growing cattle because we can grow grass very well,” says D.R. Bozeman, a third-generation cattle farmer in central Mississippi. “You take into consideration your winter grazing – you can grow grass year round. It’s a great way to utilize your land. Some is rolling and not suitable for farming and is a good way to produce income on land here.” Statistics show that Mississippi cattle greatly impact the economy. For every $1 million in sales, cattle generate $2.35 million in total economic activity, $380,000 in household wages and 17.5 additional jobs, according to the United Soybean Board. Mississippi’s cattlemen largely run cow-calf operations, which consist of mother cows that give birth to calves annually. Weaned calves generally sell to stocker operations and feedlots, where they grow to market weight. As with the national downward trend, Mississippi’s cattle numbers have declined around 15 percent in the last decade. However, the recent trend

Photos by brian mccord



Like many of the state’s 17,000 cattle farms, Bozeman strives to improve the health and quality of his livestock by keeping individual records on each animal and establishing a health management program for calves.


has shown the state’s total cattle inventory trending upward of around six percent year-over-year to reach 950,000 head at the start of 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Stocker cattle production shows strength in the Mississippi beef industry, says Jane Parish, extension beef cattle specialist with Mississippi State University. Stocker cattle include weaned calves fed to higher weights before moving to a feedlot. About 400,000 head of stocker cattle reside in the state annually, according to the university. “It seems like there’s maybe a bit of growth on the stocker side in particular,” Parish says. “We see cattle coming in from other states

buSineSS oF boVineS





950,000 17,000
cattle, and more than beef cattle farms can be found across the state.
Source: Mississippi State University

mississippi is home to more than

east of us. Typically, a lot of those cattle will graze annual ryegrass.” Year-round grass and welladapted forages prove some of Mississippi’s biggest assets. In fact, Parish says Mississippi farmers have found opportunities to sell forages to states stricken with severe drought in 2012 and prior years. The state’s cattle farmers also have a variety of natural resources available to them, such as byproducts from Mississippi’s large poultry industry that can be used as fertilizer for pastures. Ethanol plants produce feed byproducts in the form of distillers’ grains. And, in general, land is more reasonably priced and less cost prohibitive in Mississippi than other states. Yet, costs have reached historic highs for other items, namely feed,

fuel and fertilizer. A short nationwide crop from the 2012 drought further boosted feed prices. “In 2012, we had really great cattle prices, but fertilizer and fuel are through the roof and feed prices are going up,” Bozeman says. High expenses bring greater emphasis on marketing for Bozeman and his brother, Harvey, who run a cow-calf farm with 500 beef cows near Flora, about 20 miles north of Jackson. About 110 head are either registered purebred Angus or Simmental. His family privately sells the weaned calves, most of which finish to market weight at feedlots in Nebraska and Iowa. They raise some purebred cattle for seed stock. Today, their farm emphasizes an

bankinG on the Future

even greater level of performance and health than in the past. The Bozeman brothers changed breed lines to focus on animal performance, or more pounds of beef per animal. They established a health management program to improve calf vigor. They also strive for high quality beef and keep individual records by animal. Their work has established reputable relationships with feedlots that pay premiums because of proven carcass data or information on yield and quality grades of meat. Their farm is also diversified, which is common on cattle farms, Parish says. Bozeman Farms leases a portion of their land for cotton and corn production, deals in real estate, and offers hunting leases on their land. – Joanie Stiers




A Blue-Ribbon Year
ississippi’s Super Bowl of youth livestock events and the biggest rodeo east of the Mississippi River both have a home at the state’s Fairgrounds Complex. The 105-acre facility in Jackson accommodates more than 700 event days per year, according to the Mississippi State Fair Commission. Many of these events include livestock and horses. Throughout the year, the state and various groups use the grounds for a long list of events, such as rodeos, barrel races and one of the nation’s largest quarter horse shows. Meanwhile, thousands of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats are part of two major livestock shows, including the Dixie National Livestock Show & Rodeo and the Mississippi State Fair, every fall and winter. “Both of them mean a lot to the community,” says Billy Orr,

Junior livestock events set new records in 2012


director of the Fair Commission. “Within miles of here, there is not a room available for the two weeks the state fair is going on.” These major events help Mississippi promote youth and livestock, says greg Young, livestock director at the fairgrounds. Youth livestock events set records in 2012 at the Dixie National, and livestock quality improves each year. Exhibitors strive for better animals, often attained through high quality breeding stock and greater access to quality genetics, Young says. Nearly 1,500 4-H and FFA members exhibited livestock in the 2012 Dixie National Livestock Show & Rodeo, making it the largest junior market livestock show in Mississippi. Meanwhile, about 51,000 people attend the eight performances of the rodeo, the largest east of the Mississippi

River, Orr says. Including livestock events, nearly 80,000 people attend the Dixie National. While the Dixie National includes more animals, the state fair shines in attendance. The Mississippi State Fair continues to be one of the South’s major fairs with 656,298 people attending in October 2012, Orr says. The 12-day event’s main attractions include its mile-long midway, free major entertainment, 120,000 square feet of exhibits and junior livestock shows. The Dixie National Livestock Show & Rodeo, held the first three weeks of February, includes both open livestock competitions for exhibitors of any age and junior livestock competitions for 4-H and FFA members. The junior event in 2012 showcased 2,302 head of livestock, the largest in at least a decade. It registered 15 percent more animals than in 2007, according to statistics from the Mississippi State University Agricultural Extension Service. The show also includes the Sale of Junior Champions, the pinnacle event of junior livestock exhibition in Mississippi. The champion animals sold in 2012 grossed a new sale record of $299,352.50. Since its first auction in 1970, sales have totaled $4.8 million, and thousands in scholarships have been awarded to the state’s outstanding youth. For more information on these and other events at the Mississippi Fairgrounds, call (601) 961-4000 or visit – Joanie Stiers





Horse Business
hen thousands of hunter and jumper horses congregate in Mississippi for the gulf Coast Winter Classic Horse Shows, the resulting economic boost has local officials jumping for joy. The shows average about 1,000 hunter and jumper horses and 3,500 people per week during the six-week run in February and March. Competitors dine out nightly during the period, buy fuel and supplies, and shop at local stores. And show coordinators estimate a minimum 12,000 hotel room nights reserved during that period. All together, the show’s economic impact totals $42 million for the region, says Janet McCarroll, event coordinator of the gulf Coast Winter Classic Horse Shows. “This event brings people from all parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico to live here for the winter and leaves a substantial economic impact to an area that really needs it,” she says. The gulf Coast Winter Classic, held in gulfport, is an AA-rated hunter and jumper horse show sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation. The event includes six weekly, five-day competitions for hunters and jumpers, or horses that jump fences with stylistically different qualifications, tasks and challenges. The 15-year-old show brings undefinable exposure to the state, which joins the ranks of Florida, Arizona and California for quality, winter shows. In 2011 and 2012, the gulf Coast Winter Classic earned the Member’s Choice Award in the Southeast, surpassing two larger, more-established circuits for the honor.

Annual shows significantly benefit economy

“Throughout the country in horse disciplines, when they talk about horse circuits, they include Mississippi,” McCarroll says. “Now, we’re a standard in our industry.” The event takes place at the Harrison County Fairgrounds & Equestrian Center in gulfport, probably the best-kept secret in Harrison County, McCarroll says. The site includes seven allweather, crushed-rock competition areas and a rare 400-by-400-foot grass field. Such fields prove challenging and expensive to maintain, so there aren’t many in the United States, McCarroll says.

The grass field in gulfport has been commended for its beauty and quality. In fact, it earned praise from a field designer in the Beijing Olympics. “He believes it’s one of the best grand Prix fields in North America,” McCarroll says. “I’m thankful that we’ve found such a wonderful place and for how welcoming and open the gulf Coast community is to the event,” she says. “It’s a nice team effort and an event that seems to be doing good things. We’re real proud of it.” – Joanie Stiers









To MarkeT
Mississippi’s Certified Farmers Markets encourage consumers to eat local and healthy

To Market,

where can you FinD Butter

beans, cantaloupe and blueberries picked a day earlier and eggplant, cucumbers and okra picked fresh from the garden that morning? If you live near one of Mississippi’s 27 Certified Farmers Markets, the answer is close to home. The program, an initiative of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) , promotes farmers markets across the state and helps consumers identify which markets feature state-grown products. “The certified program differentiates those farmers markets that have real Mississippi farmers selling true Mississippi produce from those that may consist of only wholesalers and resellers,” says Paige

Manning, director of marketing and public relations for MDAC. Though not every farmer at a certified market must be from Mississippi, the market must have at least two Mississippi producers and at least 50 percent of what they sell they must have grown. This guideline allows for some diversity of growers in the market, while at the same time supporting local growers’ efforts. It’s also a way to encourage healthy eating. “These markets increase access to fresh produce, especially for those who have few local grocery stores,” Manning says. “And for those markets that participate in the WIC or Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs or accept SNAP benefits, it provides an easy way for individuals

to use their benefits to get fresh, nutritious produce.” At the same time, the certified program offers opportunities for Mississippi farmers. Not only does the program provide support for the farmers’ efforts in terms of marketing and even educational workshops, it has also prompted additional support measures by other state agencies. For instance, the State Tax Commission offers specific tax exemptions for certain food items sold at Mississippi Certified Farmers Markets. Also, the Department of Health now allows some value-added vendors in these markets to make their products in their home. According to Donna West, division director in market development for



MDAC, there are additional benefits. “These markets offer the farmers a profitable location to sell their goods and a place that attracts a large and often loyal customer base,” West says. “We hear that consumers really appreciate knowing that they have fresh choices, but they also appreciate the opportunity to interact with the farmer and develop that relationship.” The benefits to certification are great, West adds, and the process is easy. Market managers complete an application from the MDAC each year to ensure they meet the requirements for certification. While it’s not mandatory, nearly half of the state’s farmers markets have become certified in the four years since the program was established. Not only are those markets eligible for the tax exemptions and other benefits, they also are listed on the MDAC website as certified markets, are included in the Mississippi Market Bulletin which reaches nearly 47,000 subscribers and have access to a variety of marketing materials supplied by MDAC that position them as true Mississippi farmers markets. Farmers markets also create unique opportunities to bring a community together, with many offering live music, tastings and other special events, West says. The Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson is one of those lively venues.

an 18,000-SQuare-Foot market

In an 18,000-square-foot building on High Street near the fairgrounds is a market that brings all the richness of Mississippi’s fruit and vegetable production to one location. It’s a producers-only market, complete with more than 50 vendors who sell Mississippi produce and specialty food items, as well as crafts, which also must be made by Mississippi craftsmen. There are cooking demonstrations, children’s activities, entertainment and seasonal events at the market, which is open on Saturdays year round and on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer. The Mississippi Farmers Market was voted Best Farmers Market in Mississippi by readers of Mississippi Magazine. According to Manning, the location brings in lots of shoppers. That makes farmers happy, which means more of them participate, which in turn increases the number of customers. The Mississippi Certified Farmers Market program and the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson are great partnerships for communities, farmers and consumers. “They provide supplemental income for farmers, healthy food for consumers and play a part in developing a strong local economy,” West says. That’s definitely a win for Mississippi. To learn more about the Mississippi Farmers Market, visit or on Facebook at Mississippi Farmers Market. – Cathy Lockman

a Selection of certified Farmers markets
1. hERnAnDo
1. Hernando Farmers Market
2535 Hwy 511 Hernando, MS 38632 (662) 429-9092 Managers: Shelly Johnstone and Leigh Wills

5. Brookhaven Farmers Market
230 Whitworth Avenue Brookhaven, MS 39601 (601) 835-3460 Manager: Rebecca Bates 199 St. Catherine Street Natchez, MS 39120 (601) 442-4648 Manager: Helen D. Brooks


2. Starkville Community Market
132 South Jackson Street Starkville, MS 39760 (662) 769-1033 Manager: Alyson Karges 929 High Street Jackson, MS 39202 (601) 354-6573 Manager: Frank Malta

6. Natchez Farmers Market

jACKSon 3. bRooKhAvEn 5.
6. nATChEz 7. McCoMb


3. Mississippi Farmers Market

7. McComb Farmers Market
112 Railroad Boulevard McComb, MS 39648 (601) 684-8599 Manager: Sonya Lowery

4. Earth’s Bounty

oCEAn SpRInGS 8.

1701 Front Street Meridian, MS 39301 (601) 693-7480 Manager: John McClure

8. Ocean Springs Fresh Market
1000 Washington Avenue Ocean Springs, MS 39564 (228) 257-2496 Manager: Diane Claughton





Close to Home
ong gone are the days of buying food without giving a single thought to where it came from. Today, farmers are connected with consumers more than ever through agritourism spots, farmers markets and the local food movement. For Mississippians, finding local products has become effortless, thanks to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s (MDAC) Make Mine Mississippi program and Mississippi MarketMaker which is administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Launched in the spring of 1999, Make Mine Mississippi is a voluntary logo identification program created to heighten the public’s awareness of products that are manufactured, processed or produced in Mississippi along with the farmers who create them. Companies that produce at least 51 percent of the value of a product in the state are eligible to participate in the program, which currently boasts over 1000 companies in 30 different product categories. The program consists of everything from cosmetic and healthcare products to electronics to fruits and vegetables. Finding products offered by Make Mine Mississippi companies is as easy as visiting the program website at “We are proud of the fact that we have such a wide variety of companies and products as members,” says Donna West, division director of market

Make Mine Mississippi program and Mississippi MarketMaker connect consumers to local products
development at MDAC. “From the smallest ‘Mom and Pop’ company to the very large companies, all are looked at evenly and appreciatively and we feel Mississippi is represented well in that respect.” Consumers can also easily find local products on Mississippi MarketMaker. According to Dr. Ken Hood, extension professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, MarketMarker is a free direct marketing tool that allows you the opportunity to access national, regional and statewide markets at your computer. It connects farmers, distributors, and food retailers to consumers and each other. Anyone with Internet access can utilize this powerful marketing tool, for free, at

old South winery
Photos by brian mccord

mickle’s pickles
based in Picayune claims to have the “second best pickle on the planet.”

delta Grind Grits
in Water Valley sells stone-ground products, including grits, polenta, masa and cornmeal.

is known for its sweet muscadine wines from the winery in Natchez, founded in 1979.

indianola pecan house
sells a variety of pecan products, but they are best known for their praline pecans.





Creating New Markets
Local foods added to school and restaurant menus


Photo by brian mccord

hen you visit a farmers market, not only do you get up close and personal with some delicious Mississippi fruits and vegetables, you also come face-to-face with the men and women who grow them. And when you know who’s producing your food and who’s buying it, you’ve got more than just an exchange of goods. You’ve got a partnership. In the Hospitality State, farmers markets are just one of the ways the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) builds local food partnerships. And MDAC isn’t alone in its efforts to provide opportunities for local farmers and healthy, nutritious foods for consumers. Another public sector initiative is the Farm-to-School Program, administered by the Mississippi Department of Education in conjunction with MDAC. Priscilla Ammerman, director of purchasing and food distribution for the department of education, says of the nearly $2.5 million in federal funds the state receives for fresh food and vegetable purchases, nearly $300,000 is spent on Mississippigrown products each year. “We collaborate with the Department of Agriculture to identify farmers who have the safety certifications and who can produce the products in the volume that we require,” says Ammerman. “Together, we determine what’s available to purchase, we send those choices to the schools and then they choose which ones they want and in what quantities. It’s an excellent opportunity for the schools to use the dollars to bring low-cost

Mississippi-grown products to their school.” MDAC developed the website to provide resources to teachers and food service directors to use throughout the school year. A private-public partnership that kicked off in January 2012 is also impacting the local food movement. Eat Healthy Mississippi, a joint effort of MDAC and the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association, is an initiative to bring more locally grown products to local restaurant menus. Mike Cashion, the association’s executive director, says the group’s initial objective was to introduce local farmers to restaurateurs and facilitate those relationships. “The next step is to flesh out the details of what products can be incorporated into restaurant menu

items,” Cashion says. “To do that, we have to create recipes that meet a particular nutritional component.” Cashion explains that through a partnership with the National Restaurant Association, the Eat Healthy Mississippi program can provide the nutritional analysis restaurants need at a dramatically reduced rate via the website Educating consumers about new restaurant items and about how to use this website will also be key to the success of the initiative. “We need to make sure we have the programs and systems in place to enhance the relationships between growers and restaurants,” Cashion says. “These relationships are vital. The challenge is how do we get more restaurants and more growers involved.” – Cathy Lockman





a Growing
Specialty crops allow farmers to create new markets




what Do muscaDine grapes,
shiitake mushrooms and bonsai trees have in common? All three are part of Mississippi’s growing specialty crop industry. While row crops like soybeans and cotton are the mainstay of agricultural production, state farmers continue to explore ways to create new markets and supplement their income. Specialty crops provide that opportunity. There are more than 40 fruits and vegetables grown in Mississippi, many of which are produced by farmers on small acreages and sold across the state at farmers markets. Sweet potatoes, turnips, okra, squash and onions are some of those vegetables. One of the fruits is muscadine grapes. These true native Southern fruits are popular with growers because of their taste, their natural adaptability and their resistance to pests. Plus, they grow well in the heat and humidity, making them an ideal specialty crop for Mississippi.
staff Photo

buy the bunch

At the Mississippi State University Beaumont Horticulture Unit, farmers can tour a muscadine vineyard and learn how to grow these versatile grapes. In addition to the fresh grape crop, muscadines are a popular choice for making wine, juice and jellies. Nearly 400 acres of muscadine grapes are grown on trellises across Mississippi, a number that is sure to increase with the growing popularity of the grape and its nutritional benefits. Shiitake mushrooms are one of those specialty crops that require very little acreage. In fact, they require no “land” at all. That’s because shiitake mushrooms require nothing more than a humidity-controlled room and a growing medium. Wanda McNerney Millis, of the Mississippi Natural Products Association in New Hebron, explains how the rural farmers’ cooperative in south-central Mississippi promotes this crop and supports its growth.

harVeStinG muShroomS

Muscadine grapes grow well in heat and humidity, making them an ideal grape for Mississippi.




what’s online
Learn more about mississippi specialty crops at

Brussel’s Bonsai Nursery in Olive Branch has between 100,000 and 150,000 trees for sale at any time.

The Mississippi Natural Products Association produces 700 pounds of shiitake mushrooms each week.

“We began this initiative in 2002 as a way to develop an alternative crop that could be grown year round,” Millis says. “At the co-op, we manufacture an artificial log out of sawdust and nutrients and inoculate it with shiitake spores. It incubates for 10 weeks in our facility. At the end of that time, farmers purchase the logs and take them to their own grow rooms to finish and harvest the mushrooms.” Sound simple? Not so, says Millis. “We have a lot of people who call us wanting to grow mushrooms and thinking that it will be a quick and easy way to supplement their income.” But, she says, it really is a sevenday-a-week job because during the three-week harvest cycle, all mushrooms must be checked every day so they are cut at the correct time. Although it is more labor intensive than some think, the fact that the co-op has invested in the specialized facilities makes growing mushrooms much more feasible and less costly for Mississippi farmers.




Millis says the co-op produces 700 pounds of shiitake mushrooms a week for contract growers. They also sell logs to a dozen small producers who market their mushrooms at local farmers markets and sell them for about $16 per pound.

Brussel Martin’s specialty crop business started in his own backyard 50 years ago. His father had traveled to California on business and returned home with several bonsai trees. “I had those trees for 10 years, and I still have the pot,” says Martin. That was the beginning of his passion for bonsai, which has turned into a booming business in Olive Branch. According to Martin, there is no other business in the United States quite like Brussel’s Bonsai. “We are 20 times bigger than anyone else, and at any time, we have 100,000 to 150,000 trees ready to sell,” he says, explaining that many of those trees get their start somewhere else and are shipped to Brussel’s. “We have growers across the country who grow plants for us under our guidance and specifications,” he says. “We’re like an assembly plant here, where we care for the plants and create the finished product.” That requires a staff that knows how to employ the labor-intensive bonsai technique of trimming, wiring and repotting. At Brussel’s, they create hardy bonsai, from maple trees, azaleas, junipers and other plants, as well as indoor bonsai, which are more typically tropical plants. “We have established a strong reputation for producing quality bonsai and have a thriving business with a bright future,” Martin says. Brussel’s Bonsai also impacts the local economy, employing 35 fulltime workers and keeping the local Fed Ex and UPS facilities busy shipping plants into Olive Branch and then out again across the country. Mississippi is a great home for the business, says Martin, because of the climate. “We have a long growing season, but we also have a winter. That natural cycle is necessary for our hardy bonsai that have to go through the seasons.” – Cathy Lockman

GoinG bonSai

Shiitake mushrooms grow on artificial logs at the Mississippi Natural Products Association in New Hebron.





A Sweet Tradition
Calhoun County leads state in sweet potato production
ome people love them baked with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a pat of butter on top. Others prefer them boiled, peeled and sliced in a pie topped with cinnamon, sugar, butter and pecans. However you like your sweet potatoes, one thing is for sure: Mississippi has a long history of growing some of the best. With nearly 110 sweet potato farmers in the state growing on more than 20,000 acres, this specialty crop plays a significant role in the agriculture economy, especially in the five counties that surround Vardaman, Mississippi. The industry contributes nearly $66 million to the state economy. “Our state is the second-largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country,” says Benny graves, executive director of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council. “And of the 26 packing lines in the state that wash, grade, sort and pack sweet potatoes, 19 of them are located in Calhoun County.” Why is there such a concentration of sweet potato producers in the Vardaman area? graves says part of the reason is good old Mississippi know how. “In many cases, we have five generations of families who have been in the business, so they have a proud tradition and strong knowledge of how to grow great sweet potatoes,” graves explains. “Everybody grew sweet potatoes in the 1920s and 1930s in the rural Southeast, but as agriculture modernized, small farms gave way to larger ones and they focused on more than just growing sweet


potatoes. But in Vardaman they kept that focus and got really good at it. They have a great reputation in the marketplace for the quality of their product.” He also explains that the climate and soil are especially conducive to sweet potato production, ensuring a good sugar content in the product, which in turn ensures a happy customer. Nowhere across the country are sweet potatoes more celebrated than at the annual Vardaman Sweet Potato Festival. Held in early November, the festival is a local tradition that highlights the importance of the crop to the area. “Vardaman has hosted this festival for almost 40 years,” says Jim Blue. He and wife Maxine

have been volunteer co-chairs of the event for 15 years. “It’s a tradition for area farmers and families, and over the years it has become an opportunity to not just celebrate the sweet potato but also serves as a reunion for families and classes.” It’s also an opportunity to recognize the work of sweet potato farmers in the area. Blue explains that the festival culminates in a banquet where young farmers and community members who have helped promote the region’s top crop are honored for their work. “It’s a popular family event that’s based around a popular crop that has a long history in this area,” says Blue. – Cathy Lockman








Department of Agriculture and Commerce serves more than farmers
most people think oF Farm FielDs anD crops when
they think of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC). Yet MDAC provides consumer protection services that benefit all residents of the state. These services make sure buyers get their money’s worth – in the grocery store, at the gas pump, at the meat market and elsewhere. With more than 80 staffers across Mississippi, MDAC’s Bureau of Regulatory Services oversees specific types of businesses. The bureau has four main divisions: Consumer Protection, Meat Inspection, Petroleum Products Inspection, and Weights and Measures. “All of our divisions ensure that people are getting the quality and quantity of product that they pay for,” says Julie McLemore, director of the Bureau of Regulatory Services. “It also helps other businesses in the sense that everyone has an even, equal and fair playing field. And nobody is allowed to break the rules of the state.” The Consumer Protection Division licenses retail food establishments, including grocery stores, and conducts sanitation inspections in those establishments. “Before entering a retail food establishment, a consumer should be able to see the result of the inspector’s last visit,” says McLemore. She recommends that consumers look for a color-coded placard at the store’s entrance. A green placard indicates that the store has passed the inspection without any critical violations.


conSumer protection diViSion

Clay Hammons, an inspector with the Regulatory Services Division at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, inspects fuel at a gas station.

Clay Hammons records his findings from inspecting fuel at a gas station. He and the other inspectors across the state are responsible for making sure the gas meets specifications for quality and quantity, so accurate reporting and record-keeping is essential to their work.


mississippi is one of

states in the nation with a meat inspection program. the division inspects

27 56

meat plants in the state.

Photos by brian mccord

A yellow placard indicates that the establishment had a critical violation at the time of inspection and a follow-up inspection will take place (usually within 10 days) to ensure that the violation has been corrected. A red placard means that the store does not meet sanitation requirements as required by law. The division also ensures compliance with labeling laws, such as the Country of Origin Labeling law, or COOL. Under this law, all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meat and muscle cuts of meat, poultry, fish, peanuts and ginseng sold at Mississippi retail food establishments must be labeled with the country of origin.

a telephone number to report any issues on site.

weiGhtS and meaSureS diViSion

Drivers demand every drop when it comes to their gas tanks, and the Petroleum Products Inspection Division ensures we’re all getting a fair value at the pump. “The most common customer complaint is to report the price starting to roll before they start pumping gas, called jumping. An inspector will then make an inspection relevant to the complaint,” says McLemore. Inspectors take samples from gasoline pumps annually and without warning to guarantee that each gallon meets state specifications for quantity and quality. “If there is a quality violation, the pump will be locked until new fuel is put into the tank. If there is an equipment violation, the station will be given 48 hours to correct it. If not corrected, the department will take proper administrative action in the form of stop sale or fines,” says McLemore. A sticker on each pump proves that it has been inspected and includes

petroLeum productS inSpection diViSion

The Weights and Measures Division tests scales and measurement equipment for accuracy, such as livestock scales, scrap yard scales, rail scales and smaller capacity scales at feed stores and pawn shops. If a scale is out of tolerance, the inspector will “red tag” the scale to be repaired or adjusted by a licensed scale repair person before it can be used again in commerce. This division also checks the accuracy of grain moisture meters at grain elevators and feed mills. “We bring 25-, 50-, 500- and 1,000-pound weights to measure on the scales and ensure the calibration accuracy,” says Weights and Measures Director Connie Braswell. “So when people use scales at Home Depot, Lowe’s, co-ops or auto repair shops, they know they’re getting the amount they pay for.”

what’s online
For more information on mdac bureau of regulatory Services, visit

Mississippi is one of 27 states with a meat inspection program. The division inspects 56 meat plants in the state. “By having our own state inspection program, the Mississippi legislature promotes small business and its asset to have state inspection for small meat plants,” says Meat Inspection Director Dr. Richard Benton. In order for meat to be sold in commerce it has to be inspected at either the state or federal level. The division inspects primarily beef and hogs, but also sheep, goats, rabbits and quail. An inspector performs an antemortem inspection (before slaughter) and postmortem to make sure the animal is healthy before slaughter, slaughtered under sanitary conditions, and properly preserved and labeled. After an inspection, a mark confirming inspection is placed either on the animal itself or the packaging. – Jillian Ranegar

meat inSpection diViSion




Protecting Producers
Theft Bureau investigates crime and loss of property
ississippi victims of timber, livestock or farm equipment theft can call on a special law enforcement agency created specifically to investigate agriculture-related crimes and help recover missing property. Formed in 1993, the Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau (MALTB), a division of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC), has a director and nine certified law enforcement investigators who have jurisdiction to investigate agriculture-related incidents and arrest violators. The bureau assists other state and local law enforcement agencies and can bring extra attention to cases that might otherwise go unsolved, says MALTB Director Jeff Stewart. “A lot of times, local sheriff’s departments are so busy working violent crimes,” Stewart says, “they don’t have a lot of time to spend when someone’s equipment or livestock are stolen. But that’s really what we specialize in, agricultural thefts.” Between June 2010 and June 2012, the total dollar value of reported crimes topped $8 million, according to statistics provided by


FocuSed on aGricuLture

the bureau. Of that, the bureau recovered more than $2.44 million worth of property. During that time period, MALTB investigated 231 agriculture equipment cases, 123 timber cases, 105 “other” cases including hay, feed and seed, 143 cattle and horse cases and many more. But recovery statistics don’t always tell the complete story, Stewart says. Many of the crimes the bureau investigates occur in rural places where there are no witnesses. Some victims don’t notice a crime right away and wait days – even weeks – to report thefts, making it more difficult to recover stolen goods, he says. Bureau investigators provide educational outreach and speak regularly to groups about safety and theft prevention. “A lot of what we deal with are crimes of opportunity, and there are things people can do to prevent them,” Stewart says. “Just be aware of your surroundings and keep a watch on your property.” The bureau handles the registration of all livestock brands in the state and recommends branding cattle for identification purposes. Theft of any livestock, regardless of value, is a felony.

Historically, the most common cases the bureau is called on include livestock theft, the shooting of livestock, timber theft, farm equipment theft, saddle and tack theft, and agricultural chemical theft, according to the bureau’s website. In recent months, Stewart says the bureau has worked multiple timber and agricultural equipment thefts. Timber theft is considered a felony if the amount stolen totals more than $500. Thieves have also recently targeted large, commercial zeroturn lawn mowers, he says, adding that the upswing in these thefts is likely linked to the down economy. In October 2012, the MALTB seized stolen property and equipment valued at $268,000 from one individual in Claiborne county. At just shy of 20 years old, the MALTB is still a relatively new government organization. “We’re constantly running into people, even in law enforcement, who don’t know that we exist,” Stewart says. “We’re here to service the whole agricultural community.” To report an agriculture crime or provide information regarding a crime, call (800) 678-2660.

timber work

educationaL outreach

here to SerVe

The nUMb E R S:

the number of ag equipment cases the bureau has investigated since 2011


the number of timber cases investigated in the past two years


the number of cattle and horses cases investigated since 2011





Producer/MArketer of freSh eggS
Gresham Petroleum markets a full line of petroleum products and services to a large area of northwest Mississippi and southeast Arkansas. We are one of the largest fuel line petroleum distributors in the region. Let one of our Mississippi locations meet your petroleum needs:
Gresham Petroleum Company – Indianola 415 Pershing Ave. P.O. Box 690 Indianola, MS 38751 662-884-5000 Gresham McPherson Oil Company – Greenwood 401 Third St. Greenwood, MS 38930 662-453-5921 Gresham McPherson Oil Company – Belzoni 204 S. George Lee St. P.O. Box 397 Belzoni, MS 39038 662-247-2272 Delta Terminal Inc. – Greenville 2081 Rear Harbor Front Rd. Greenville, MS 38701 662-332-9558 Gresham Petroleum Company – Shaw 215 Elm St. Shaw, MS 38773 662-754-3061 Gresham Petroleum Company – Inverness 906 Fourth St. Inverness, MS 38753 662-265-5812

AMericA’S LArgeSt

Fred Adams, Jr. was born in Macon, Mississippi on November 26, 1931, and attended grade school and high school in Noxubee County, graduating in 1949. After spending 21 months in the Army and graduating from East Mississippi Junior College, he went on to graduate from University of Southern Mississippi in 1954. After a brief time with Ralston Purina, he started Adams Enterprises in 1957. Fred has been a director of the Mississippi Poultry Association, United Egg Producers, U.S. Egg Marketers and Egg Clearinghouse. He has served on the American Egg Board as well as the International Egg Commission. He and his wife, Jean, live in Jackson and have 21 grandchildren. Cal-Maine History
1957 – Fred Adams started Adams Enterprises – Broiler and Egg Production in Jackson, MS 1969 – Merger of Dairy Fresh (California) and Maine Egg Farm to form Cal-Maine Foods with 14 locations 1972 – Acquisition of eight locations from Ralston Purina 1989 – Acquired six locations from Sunny Fresh (Cargill) Since 1989, completed 17 acquisitions, the most recent being Pilgrim’s Pride in Pittsburg, TX, August 2012 1998 – Joint Venture at Delta, UT

Cal-Maine Foods – Facts
In business in Jackson, Mississippi since 1957 Largest egg producer in U.S. with 33MM laying hens at 36 egg production/processing locations in 11 states Sales over $1B, from 884-plus million dozen eggs sold per year providing eggs for more than 42.6MM people in the U.S. Mississippi footprint: Hatchery, feed mill, breeder flocks, pullet farm and two egg production/processing locations Cal-Maine hens consume 1.2MM bushels of Mississippi grain annually Cal-Maine employs more than 200 people in the state Company vehicles for all locations are purchased from Mississippi businesses Cal-Maine (CALM) is publicly traded on the NASDAQ

3320 W. Woodrow Wilson Ave. • Jackson, MS 39209 (601) 948-6813 •





It Starts With A Seed
MDAC seed lab moves the odds to farmers’ favor
o much in farming is out of the farmer’s control – the weather. The market. The price of gas. Yet starting with quality seed increases the odds of success. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) Seed Testing Laboratory, located at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in Starkville, helps farmers make sound planting decisions by providing reliable information about the quality of seed before it is purchased. “generally, we perform approximately 20,000 different lab analyses a year, most commonly on cotton, rice, wheat and soybean seed,” says MDAC Seed Lab Director Fabian Watts. The Seed Lab is equipped with the latest technology such as germinators, accelerated aging chambers and electronic seed counters. The team of professionally trained seed analysts performs a variety of tests to determine seed purity


and truth in labeling and to predict how the seed is likely to perform in the field under a variety of conditions. Testing time ranges from seven to 30 days, according to Watts, depending on the particular crop involved. As part of the regulatory agency, BPI inspectors collect thousands of samples each year from current stock available in the marketplace, which is then analyzed by the Seed Lab to ensure seed quality and truth in labeling. “We perform purity examinations to determine the percentage of noxious weeds, foreign matter and weed seed that might be present. The seed is then subjected to a standard germination test, giving us an indication of how the seed will perform under ideal conditions,” Watts explains. These tests are used to determine if the seed lot is labeled properly, protecting investments of farmers, gardeners, nurserymen and homeowners. A stop sale is placed on the lot of seed if any

of the tests conducted reveal a problem with the seed. The services of the Seed Lab are also directly available to farmers interested in submitting a sample of each commodity they grow for testing free of charge. According to John Campbell, director of the Bureau of Plant Industry, the increased amount of samples sent to MDAC’s Seed Lab in the past 10 years is evidence the lab is one of the best. All lab analyses adhere strictly to the Association of Official Seed Analysts’ “Rules for Testing Seed,” which promote uniformity and a high standard of seed testing on a national level. “People are choosing to send their seed to us because we provide high quality, accurate results in a timely manner,” Campbell says. “We are able, with the support of the seed industry, to maintain state-of-the-art equipment and continue training our dedicated and knowledgeable staff.” – Jillian Ranegar

Farmer SerViceS

enSure QuaLity and truth

hiGh-tech work

We are proud to be a part of Mississippi Agriculture.

Cedar Grove Ranch
Breeders of Champion Palomino Quarter Horses Overnight Stabling Available. Contact Helen Fleming. 326 Rd. 1 • Tupelo, MS 38804 (662) 842-9346 •
For information regarding MS Seedsmen’s Association, please contact Richard Taylor at (662) 686-4621.








UPin the aIr
Agricultural aviation increases farmers’ efficiency, boosts yields



The nUMbE R S:
mississippi has

pilots who take agriculturerelated flights.

233 101 130 60

A crop duster swoops in to spray a field in Mississippi. Fixed-wing planes are generally used for spraying crops.

For many, seeing a low-

companies work in mississippi’s agriculture aviation sector.

Fixed-wing planes average

miles per hour.

helicopters cruise at a slower

miles per hour.

Sources: Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Bureau of Plant Industry.

flying airplane might cause some concern. But drive past Mississippi’s vast farms and forests, and there’s a good chance you’ll see more than a few planes and helicopters hovering just above the ground. For aerial application, or crop dusting, trained pilots emit a light spray of fungicides, pesticides and other chemicals over crops. Matt Brignac, of Brignac Flying Service in Columbus, is an agriculture pilot who operates fixed-wing planes. He explains that with the increase in food consumption and demand in the United States, crop dusting helps farmers increase their yield without having to expand the size of their farm. In Mississippi, two different types

of aircraft are used, depending on the type of land being sprayed. Fixed-wing planes are used for most field crops, like corn and cotton, while helicopters are used for forestry. In fact, by state law, forestry herbicides must be applied by helicopters if they are using aerial application. Fixed-wing planes can cover more ground than helicopters and therefore are more productive for larger areas. Helicopters are more beneficial for targeted areas because of lower speeds and larger droplet size, which minimizes drift. Fixedwing planes fly at an average of 130 mph, while helicopters cruise at a slower 60 mph. “Another advantage of helicopters is that they can land right on the back





of a truck or in a field if needed,” says pilot Michael McCool of Provine Helicopters in greenwood. “Fixedwing airplanes have to work from an airport or grass strip close to the area.” Both types of planes take advantage of modern technology to make the application more accurate. The fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters both contain gPS systems that help pilots identify boundary lines, as well as in-flight computers that keep track of where they have sprayed. The computers can also regulate air speed. Brignac says that fixed-wing planes use technology where the base can directly email a map to a plane while the pilot is flying, allowing them to better navigate the area. – Rachel Bertone

Photos by todd bennett



The Mississippi Poultry Association has been growing Mississippi’s economy and feeding the world for 75 years
Poultry is Mississippi’s Largest Agricultural Commodity
• 4.6 billion pounds of broilers and 1.4 billion eggs in 2011 • Exported to 66 countries in 2011

110 Airport Rd., Ste. C • Pearl, MS 39208





Flight at the Museum
Aviation, ag and forestry museums attract visitors
ear one of the busiest intersections in Jackson, you will find a farmstead from the 1860s, a rural town reminiscent of the 1920s and even a small fleet of retired crop dusters. What are these glimpses into the past doing just off the interstate in Mississippi’s largest city? They are part of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum and the National Agriculture Aviation Museum. For nearly three decades, these museums have given visitors a view of the state’s rich agricultural heritage, says museum director Charlie Dixon. “What we have been able to preserve at the Agriculture and Forestry Museum provides visitors with an appreciation for the role agriculture has played in the history of Mississippi, as well as an appreciation for the work of the farmer and forester.” At the Fortenberry-Parkman Farmstead, for instance, visitors get a glimpse of what it was like to live on a farm 150 years ago. They can tour the main house and kitchen, which were brought to the site board-by-board and reconstructed, and see the grain buildings, mule pens, smokehouse and other outbuildings needed to make the farm self-sustaining. In another area of the nearly 40-acre museum site, visitors can step back in time to the 1920s


The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson has a working 120-year-old cotton gin.

strolling through a recreated rural town complete with general store, blacksmith shop, filling station, doctor’s office, print shop, veterinarian’s office, school house and even a Masonic lodge. Self-guided tours are available year round, and during the museum’s harvest festival, the grist mill, cane mill, saw mill, print shop, and cotton gin are in operation. A nature trail through the forestry area offers another point of interest. When you’ve completed your tour of the outside exhibits, there’s plenty to see inside. “Our Heritage Center provides an exploration of the history and development of agriculture in Mississippi from the time of the

Indians to sharecropper days to the present,” says Dixon. The exhibits are organized by the transportation mode most commonly used in agriculture during a specific period: water, rail, and road. Air transportation is also covered, with one-third of the Heritage Center devoted to the National Agriculture Aviation Museum. In addition to artifacts and exhibits that explain the importance of crop dusting and hydro seeding in agriculture, the museum is home to four crop dusters and the National Agriculture Aviation Hall of Fame. – Cathy Lockman

IF yoU G o :




Education programs around the state introduce students to new opportunities in ag
at m antachie high school
in northeastern Mississippi, agriculture education has a long and proud tradition. Each year, scores of the school’s 350 students take classes in introduction to agriculture science, forestry and meat science. And for the last 25 years, every one of those students has also been active in FFA. It’s what C.W. Franks says separates Mantachie’s curriculum from others. “We consider our work with students to be a program, not just classes,” says Franks, the school’s FFA advisor and meat science teacher. Other components of the program include showing cattle, managing three greenhouses, growing and selling sorghum and even operating a deerprocessing facility. “It’s not just about passing on knowledge to them and getting them to understand it. It’s about preparing them to be well-rounded citizens and partners in the agriculture community.” He says the FFA experience is integral to achieving that goal. “We have a very committed group of young people in our FFA chapter. FFA provides them with leadership opportunities, competitions and real-life experiences you can’t get from a book.” It’s so important, that Franks says they even have students remain in the FFA chapter after they’ve graduated. Franks knows what he’s talking about. A 1978 graduate of Mantachie, Franks has been teaching at the high school since 1989. The other agriculture teacher at Mantachie, Joe Rogers, joined the faculty in 2004. He’s also a Mantachie graduate and a former student of Franks’. “Many of our students get jobs in meats or ag education or ag

Schooled in

Students at Mantachie High School make sorghum as part of their educational experience.




Photos by brian mccord





Sorghum made by Mantachie High School students

A Mantachie FFA member gets hands-on practice in making sorghum.

engineering,” says Franks. “But we also have doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and others who were part of our program and our FFA chapter who continue to tell us that the leadership and management skills they learned help them in their business today.” Mississippi FFA State President Kristen Bishop of Nettleton can attest to the benefits of the FFA experience. “Leadership skill development is one of the most important ways FFA prepares students for college ag programs and ag careers,” she says. “Students get the concepts in the classroom. FFA supports that learning, and also helps them develop business skills and people skills to help them be successful.” A member of the Nettleton FFA, Bishop began her FFA experience when she started raising meat goats.

FoSterinG LeaderShip SkiLLS

Classroom instruction is a vital part of any agricultural education experience.




Students at Mantachie High School process a deer as part of their ag education experience.

After she completes her term as state president and the internship at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce that goes along with that title, Bishop is hoping to pursue a career as a high school agriculture teacher. Another group that fosters an appreciation for and skills development in agriculture is 4-H. The Mississippi 4-H program provides hands-on educational experiences for young people so that they can learn leadership, citizenship and life skills. Programs are delivered throughout the state by local county extension offices and trained volunteers. Students complete projects on topics including gardening, livestock, equine, forestry and entomology, among others. In addition to specialized high school ag classes, FFA experiences

LeSSonS that make the Grade

and 4-H opportunities, Mississippi students are also introduced to agriculture through the state’s Ag in the Classroom program. This program encourages educators to teach more about our food system, as well as the critical role that agriculture plays in our economy and in our society. That encouragement comes in the form of new methods, materials and activities meant to simplify, improve and enhance classroom instruction. An initiative of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, the Ag in the Classroom program started more than 20 years ago. At the time, leaders in the Mississippi business, agriculture and educational communities saw the need to foster a greater understanding and appreciation for the agriculture industry. Schoolchildren were becoming more removed from the ag economy, and the supplemental

teaching materials were developed to help bridge that gap. “There are so many children who aren’t connected to agriculture at all, and yet everything we have has some connection to agriculture,” says Clara Bilbo, coordinator of the Ag in the Classroom program. There are units for every grade level from kindergarten through high school, she says. They include everything from lesson plans and activity books to posters and even an ag Jeopardy game. Bilbo says counties often purchase the units for a classroom or a school. “Schools are a very important asset in expressing the importance of agriculture across communities within our state,” she says. “When you tell 10 students in the classroom, they go home and tell several more. So you have an opportunity to make a big impact by educating a lot of people.” – Cathy Lockman



Mississippi has a strong forestry community and it’s growing – sustainably and responsibly.
SuStainable foreStry
provides Mississippi with clean air, clean water, outdoor recreation, economic benefits, jobs and habitat for our wildlife.

Mississippi forestry association





Extending a Hand
f you think that university extension services are just for farmers, think again. In fact, much of the work done by extension experts at Mississippi State and Alcorn State universities is helpful to those on Main Street, too. To learn how the extension helps, simply turn on your television or radio. Farmweek, a television show produced by MSU Extension and the Mississippi Public Broadcasting, explores ag topics that impact the health and well-being of the public as well as the financial well-being of the farmer. Radio shows such as Farm and Family and Southern Gardening, also sponsored by MSU Extension, also provide practical information for consumers. “The extension service doesn’t look the same as it did in 1914, when farmers were about 30 percent of the American workforce,” says Dr. gary Jackson, MSU Extension Director. “We remain passionate about our vital agricultural and natural resources; however, our programs also include community resource development, 4-H/youth development, and family and

University extension services reach out to local communities


consumer sciences. These topic are relevant to Mississippians, whether they live in the city, the suburbs or the country.” The extension service provides unbiased information driven by science, Jackson says, with research based on what their clients and communities say they need. “Extension makes cutting-edge agricultural research accessible to the public in a timely fashion,” says Dalton McAfee, the extension administrator at Alcorn State.

McAfee says extension services help small farmers produce, market and manage their crops, educate communities on conservation practices, and teach families about fresh produce, gardening, nutrition and physical fitness. “Extension is a partnership,” says McAfee. “Together with MSU we work to address the needs of Mississippi families and farmers. We want to make a difference in improving the quality of life for all Mississippians.” – Cathy Lockman

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The Port of Gulfport has the perfect location on the Gulf of Mexico making it the ideal port for ocean carriers to handle agricultural products like cotton, paper, produce, fruit and even frozen poultry in refrigerated containers to expanding markets in the Americas.

Contact: Van Grundmann Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport P.O. Box 40 • Gulfport, MS 39502 • (228) 865-4300 email: •





A Family Affair
hen David Huff was 8 years old, his parents, Mark and Debbie, wanted to provide an opportunity for their son to learn the valuable lessons that come from caring for and showing livestock. Ten years and three more sons later, the dairy goat operation at Hidden Arrows Farms near Brandon continues to be a Huff tradition. “We saw the goats as a way to expand the boys’ education,” says Debbie Huff, who has homeschooled David, now 19, twins, Alex and Andrew, 17, and John Mark, 12. “When the boys were young, it was a learning curve for all of us. I did the initial research, and gradually they would master a skill or responsibility and I would turn it over to them.” The boys learned how to show their animals. They learned about feeding, pasture management, the milking process and how to diagnose illnesses and keep the goats healthy. They also learned the importance of sanitation and health when working with a raw product being put into the food chain. But the education didn’t stop there. As the Huffs realized they had more milk than customers, they took on a new challenge. This time they learned chemistry, accounting and marketing skills by producing goats’ milk soap and lotion, and selling their products at farmers markets and retail locations in the Jackson area. In the meantime, they’ve learned some other lessons, too, like responsibility and perseverance and developing a strong work ethic. “Waking up every morning to take care of animals, no matter what, repairing electric fences when they are down, treating goats when they’re sick and making sure everything is thoroughly taken care of in my absence teaches me responsibility and hard work,” says Alex Huff. David Huff, a freshman mechanical engineering major at Ole Miss, agrees. “The skills I learn today on the farm will be helpful and applicable to my future,” David says. “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that honesty and integrity are to be valued above all else.” All four of the boys will tell you that showing and caring for their goats isn’t all work either. John Mark Huff especially enjoys checking on the goats and having the chance to play with them. His brother Andrew says the goats are a way to step away from

Brothers develop life skills through raising dairy goats
the hectic pace of life for a little while. Plus, they have given him the opportunity to work in 4-H. “4-H has been key to the enjoyment of my work because it gives you the chance to put work into action,” he says. As they look to the future, the Huff boys know that their experiences on the farm will play a big role in their career decisions, whether they follow a path into foreign missions, engineering, medicine, ag economics or even politics. “There will always be times in life, in work, or any other aspect of life when I might feel ready to quit or give up what I am doing,” Andrew Huff says. “That is when perseverance comes in. And it’s a lesson I am glad to have learned on the farm.” – Cathy Lockman

John Mark Huff balances work and play while raising goats with his brothers on their farm near Brandon.








Improving Quality of Life
Program helps people grow and market healthy food


hile many rural communities face the challenges of unemployment, poverty, obesity and related health concerns, in Holmes County the numbers are particularly alarming. Recent data for the county shows a poverty rate of 48.4 percent and the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation. Keith Benson, along with a small group of local farmers and residents, is working to change that. Through their efforts, the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production was established in January 2011. “The mission of the alliance is to improve the quality of life in our community and other, poor, rural, underserved communities by helping people to grow healthy food and market it,” says Benson,

director of the alliance. “We encourage farmers to grow sustainable crops, like specialty vegetables and fruits. We help to ensure they will have the markets to sell those crops to so that it can be a profitable endeavor for them.” One way they fulfill that mission is through the development of the alliance’s demonstration farm. Currently, only six acres of the 50 acres donated by a local farmer are in production, but Benson says they’re looking to get 12-14 acres in cultivation in the coming year, as interest is high and initial efforts have been successful. “We harvested more than 11,000 pounds of melons this first year, along with peas, beans, squash and cucumbers, and delivered them to grocery and specialty stores,” Benson says. “We’re making

The Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production hosts a field day in Holmes County.

phenomenal progress mobilizing farmers and securing buyers in a very short period of time.” The demonstration farm is also home to field days and other monthly events that provide an on-farm learning experience to mimic what farmers could do on their own farms. Here, the alliance hosts demonstrations and workshops on everything from how to build a high tunnel or hoop house, to how to plan your sustainable crop to ensure a profit. Developing relationships with stores and retailers to establish a market for these crops is an integral part of the alliance’s work as well. One of the big surprises to Benson is how quickly they have been able to meet the demands of institutional buyers, such as schools. “This year we delivered produce to seven public schools in the Delta. The food service managers were very happy with the taste, and told us they really wanted to serve local foods. One told me that it was the first time she had ever met a farmer who grew the food they were serving in their kitchen.” That kind of connection is at the heart of the alliance’s work. They connect farmers to each other for support and success; they connect farmers to markets to ensure a profit and they connect the public with nutritious, locally grown food to encourage healthy choices. “People know how to grow in this area,” says Benson. “We want to help them to grow better so that they can make a better living and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. It’s more than agriculture. It’s a way of strengthening and building community.” – Cathy Lockman





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Managing Editors Kim Holmberg, blair tHomas Content Director jessy yancey Proofreading Manager raven Petty Content Coordinator racHel bertone Contributing Writers sally barber, sonja bjelland, gary digiusePPe, beverley Kruel, Kevin litwin, catHy locKman, cHris Poore, jillian ranegar, joanie stiers, juliann vacHon Senior Graphic Designers stacey allis, laura gallagHer, jaKe sHores, Kris sexton, viKKi williams Graphic Designers erica lamPley, Kara leiby, Kacey Passmore Senior Photographers jeff adKins, brian mccord Staff Photographers todd bennett, micHael conti, martin b.cHerry Color Imaging Technician alison Hunter Integrated Media Manager deboraH lewis Ad Production Manager Katie middendorf Ad Traffic Assistants Krystin lemmon, Patricia moisan Chairman greg tHurman President/Publisher bob scHwartzman Executive Vice President ray langen Senior V.P./Operations casey Hester Senior V.P./Agribusiness Publishing Kim newsom Holmberg V.P./External Communications teree carutHers V.P./Agribusiness Sales rHonda graHam V.P./Sales Herb HarPer Controller cHris dudley Accounts Receivable Coordinator diana guzman Sales Support Project Manager sara Quint System Administrator daniel cantrell Web Creative Director allison davis Photography Director jeffrey s. otto Creative Services Director cHristina carden Creative Technology Analyst becca ary Distribution Director gary smitH


Mississippi Agriculture is published annually by Journal Communications Inc. and is distributed by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. For advertising information or to direct questions or comments about the magazine, contact Journal Communications Inc. at (615) 771-0080 or by email at

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