Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson - October 2022 (photo from Gipson's Facebook page.)
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, record inflation, workforce shortages, and more, agriculture in Mississippi continues to excel, says Ag Commissioner Gipson.
Agriculture remains the leading industry in the state of Mississippi. It employs upwards of 20 percent of the state’s workforce, according to Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson. He said if you include jobs outside of production, into food service and distribution, that number could look closer to 30 percent.
Roughly two percent of the American population grows food for the entire country. Rewind to World War II, that number was closer to 50 percent.
“We are representing what I believe to be the greatest industry, not only in Mississippi but in the world,” said Gipson. “It is the industry that meets the basic needs of all human beings regardless of race, where we come from, how much money we have – we all need to eat.”
Commissioner Gipson shared that 2022 was one for the history books with record success in the agriculture arena. The year also offered its share of challenges. He likened the struggles but continued success to the old Hank Williams song, “A County Boy Can Survive.” Inflation impacted farmers and consumers alike.
“We’ve faced inflationary pressures like we’ve never seen, and those pressures are putting more pressure and more pain on farmers than anybody else,” said Gipson.
He said those inflationary costs have impacted the cost of feed, which is up 50 percent, gas and fertilizer, which doubled since 2020 and has not gone down much in 2022, just to name a few.
Droughts across the nation also created new issues with transportation, particularly along the Mississippi River. This caused supply chain issues that were already exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in the prior years.
“COVID caused a lot of those problems, but not all. A lot of those problems were caused by state policies that were put in place, shutting down production across America,” said Gipson.
The Commissioner added that in some states, processing plants have not been able to operate at full capacity with a workforce shortage being the big part of the reason why.
However, Gipson said despite all of those challenges, Mississippi farmers have had record levels of production in 2020, 2021, and 2022. In 2022 alone, the state made $9.7 billion in just farm gate value, not including processing.
Typically, Mississippi’s forestry industry is the number one money maker, but, in 2022, that went to chicken at $3.8 billion. Forestry was number two at $1.3 billion and beans followed with roughly $1.79 billion.
Mississippi still leads to world in farm raised catfish and maintains top producing status for sweet potatoes and pine trees. Strides were also made with increased dealings for lumber with Great Britain and the Dominican Republican at $17 million. In addition, farmers more than tripled the state’s meat processing ability.
Gipson said it is always important to remember that the world’s food supply is a one year at a time proposition.
“Our farmers didn’t quit. They didn’t fold their arms and say, I’m not going to feed the cows today or tend the crops today. So, when you see a farmer, thank a farmer,” said Gipson.
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) has worked to connect farm fresh food and other agricultural products directly with consumers. This is a transaction that is exempt from sales tax. One way they have done so is by an increased initiatives to establish farmers markets all across the state. The Mississippi Farmer’s Market takes place in Jackson on the State Fair Grounds multiple times a week and features 32 stalls.
Locate a farmers’ market near you.
Another program, Genuine MS, provides access to Mississippi products through an online registry where consumers can reach out directly to farms. Products include crops, livestock, dairy, seafood, specialty crafted goods, foods and beverages as well as manufactured goods which are at least 51 percent made in the state.
“You can buy just about anything you want to buy. Grown, raised, crafted right here in the magnolia state,” said Gipson. He said “pop-up” stores have been very successful at events like the Dixie National Rodeo.
Check out Genuine MS HERE.
MDAC has also made an effort to expose young people to opportunities in agriculture with the establishment of the Ag Youth Council, which spans much farther than just working on a farm. Members are required to apply online to participate. The youth visit Ag companies and organizations and learn about the legislative process and how it impacts the Ag industry. They also have the opportunity to shadow professionals to hone their skills.
“We can talk about workforce development but until we get these young people plugged in and on a career path, we are spinning our wheels. We are actually getting good results for our young people, tying them into opportunities,” said Gipson.