Two Mississippi state legislators have been honored with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Friend of Agriculture Award.
Sen. Russell Jolly, Houston, and Rep. Bill Piggott, Tylertown, were recognized at the organization’s annual meeting at Jackson.
Jolly, a cattle farmer who represents District 8 — Chickasaw, Calhoun, Grenada, and Lee Counties — is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
He has been instrumental in getting key pieces of legislation through his committee, including the Cottage Food Bill, which allows small food operations to be exempt from Department of Health regulations for non-hazardous foods; the Catfish Labeling Bill, which closes a loophole in the Mississippi Country of Origin Labeling Law where foreign fish were being labeled as U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish; and the Livestock Theft Bill, which created criminal penalties for stealing livestock and requires buyers at stockyards to pay promptly upon purchase of animals.
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Jolly says he has learned during his Senate service that a broad range of legislation can have an impact on agriculture.
“With highway transportation, for example, there are issues of rural roads and bridges being properly maintained so farmers can get their products where they need to be. With wildlife, feral hogs are a concern for farmers.
“Many farmers depend on migrant labor, so immigration issues are also important. In my district, we have Vardaman, the Sweet Potato Capital of the world, and that industry is heavily dependent on migrant labor, as are other agriculture sectors. It’s a problem we need to work out.”
He says it’s important to maintain the Animal Cruelty Compromise Bill passed a couple of years ago. “Farmers take care of their animals,” he says. “I know I spend a lot more money on mine than I do myself.”
With a growing world population, Jolly says, “being able to feed all those people is a major concern, and continued funding for our Land Grant universities and agricultural research is important.”
Agritourism is a growing sector, he says. “Kids today are two or three generations removed from the farm, and agritourism operations teach them about farming and how they get their food.”
Rep. Piggott, who represents District 99 — which includes parts of Lamar, Marion, and Walthall Counties — is chair of the House Agriculture Committee, service he says has given him an insight into things many Mississippians take for granted.
“It’s a shame,” he says, “that agriculture is a top industry in our state, but doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves. Part of this is due to the way our legislature is made up — we have many concentrated urban areas whose lawmakers don’t have roots in farming or rural communities.
“I’m fortunate to have grown up in a rural area and have farmed for many years, so I know production agriculture.”
Key legislation Piggott has worked on include roads and bridges, water, the Cottage Food Bill, and others.
“Mississippi is fortunate to have good water,” he says, “but some of the regulations coming down could make it really hard on farmers.”
Sometimes, Piggott says, getting a piece of legislation through committee is not as important as being able to stop it before it gets to the floor.
“Legislation that might seem harmless at face value, when you get down to the inside workings of it, could actually do harm to farmers and rural communities.”
Both Jolly and Piggott say they appreciate the support of Farm Bureau and its grassroots membership regarding issues of importance to the state’s agriculture and its farmers.