ROGER WICKER: Mississippi holds on to farming
Today a single farmer can feed 155 people. During National Agriculture Week, celebrated in March every year, we have a special opportunity to recognize and thank the Americans who provide sustenance around the world and contribute to the bread and butter of our national economy.
Planting crops and raising livestock are not only a way of life in Mississippi but also our state’s largest industry. Agriculture and forestry production affect all 82 counties, supporting nearly a third of our state’s workforce either directly or indirectly. Last year, agriculture and forestry added more than $16 billion to Mississippi’s economy. With more than 37,000 farms covering nearly 11 million acres, Mississippians are responsible for a diverse harvest – from poultry and peanuts to catfish and cotton.
Mississippi is an agricultural powerhouse, and the world is taking notice. Our state’s agricultural exports have an economic impact of more than $2 billion, and this number could continue to rise. By opening the doors to new consumers and business opportunities, trade helps boost economic growth and job creation here at home. Mississippi soybeans, for example, continue to be in high demand throughout the world. In fact, nearly all of the soybeans grown in Mississippi are exported.
I remain committed to keeping Mississippi workers and resources competitive in the global marketplace. Earlier this year, I joined Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Trent Kelly in calling for U.S.-grown rice to be given priority when the federal government delivers international aid through the “Food for Peace” program. Since rice is a crop commodity in Mississippi, the use of domestically grown rice in relief efforts is good for our state and the entire country.
I have also spoken out on a number of occasions with Cochran to defend Mississippi catfish. We have repeatedly raised safety and public health concerns posed by catfish-like products from overseas. In the 2008 Farm Bill, Cochran successfully led the effort to apply the same safety standards to foreign products that are required of catfish raised in the United States. Specifically, inspection of catfish were moved from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Despite efforts to curtail this important change, the new oversight of catfish and catfish-like products at USDA formally began earlier this month. Unlike the inspections at FDA, which examined less than 2 percent of imported fish, USDA will inspect 100 percent of farm-raised catfish imports.
Every year, I meet with large numbers of Mississippi farmers to discuss current challenges and opportunities. This dialogue is important to building partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that Mississippi’s agricultural strength continues for many years to come. The health of our nation depends on the quality of the crops and goods we produce. Our appreciation for the Americans who have dedicated their lives to providing a safe and reliable food supply goes far beyond National Agriculture Week.
Roger Wicker is a U.S. senator from Mississippi. For contact information, visit wicker.senate.gov.