MERIDIAN — By Bill Crawford
How important is the Farm Bill to Mississippi?
The answer is the same as for this question – how important are farms and forestry to Mississippi’s economy?
Well, 65 percent of Mississippi’s 30 million acres of land is forest land. Approximately 125,000 landowners participate in $1.17 billion in forestry production per year. Forestry is the focus of Title VIII of the Farm Bill.
Nearly 1,500 poultry farms generated $2.7 billion in broiler, egg, and chicken production in 2013. Another 2,700 farms produced soybean crops valued at $993 million. Another 2,113 farms produced corn crops valued at $613 million. About 730 farms produced cotton crops valued at $331 million. Just over 17,550 cattle farms generated production valued at $289 million. And 125 catfish operations generated production valued at $178 million. Then there were hog, rice, wheat, peanut, dairy, and sweet potato farms too. Title I of the Farm Bill deals with farm commodities.
Mississippi ag exports hit $1.3 billion in 2012. Title III of the Farm Bill deals with trade.
Altogether, farms and forestry generated $7.3 billion in state economic impact in 2013, as estimated by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. That accounts for about 21 percent of the state’s total economy and 29 percent of total state employment.
So, without even considering Title V, the Farm Bill is pretty darn important to Mississippi.
Title V is the Nutrition title that includes the SNAP program (food stamps). In October USDA reported 671,463 Mississippians participated in SNAP. That’s about double the number who participated in 2004 and represents 22.5 percent of the state population. This increase shows the tremendous negative impact the Great Recession had, since SNAP only serves low-wage workers, the unemployed, and low-income elderly and disabled persons. Total SNAP payments to Mississippians in 2012 totaled $972.5 million. Clearly, Title V of the Farm Bill is also important to Mississippi.
As you may be aware, passing the complex Farm Bill has proven difficult. House Republicans want to cut crop subsidies and SNAP payments. Sequestration cuts everything. Farmers from different regions are at odds about which crops get the best deal.
Resolving issues and getting a bill passed will take strong, persistent leadership. A resolution that preserves Mississippi’s important farm/forest economy and provides reasonable cuts to SNAP payments will take strong, persistent, pro-Mississippi leadership.
If there is a leader who provides both, it is highly respected Senator Thad Cochran. A champion of Mississippi agriculture for over 40 years, Cochran is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and one of four leaders negotiating the Farm Bill.
Cochran wants a farm bill “that will reform and modernize programs, produce budget savings at the same time, and provide certainty about the government’s role to producers and consumers alike.”
Be glad we have Thad.
Crawford (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.