In Mississippi: '06 Extension budget cuts expected

Mississippi agriculture funding suffered its fair share of funding cuts in the recent budgetary process, but efforts are already under way to tackle similar challenges certain to return in the future.

That was the assessment conveyed by leaders of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation during its summer commodities meeting held on July 7 in Jackson, Miss.

Harry Dendy, governmental relations official with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, reported there was a 2.4 percent ($1.5 million) reduction in fiscal 2006 funds for ag Extension departments at Mississippi State University.

The overall budget has been set at $4.6 billion for fiscal 2006.

“One of the things we were most interested in was the funding of the ag schools at MSU, and we fought long and hard, and hoped we would get level funding for that. We came close,” Dendy said.

Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President David Waide said hammering out the state's budget has been a long process.

“The net effect is that some of the things the state didn't fund will be passed on to the counties in the form of unfunded mandates. That will be a challenge to us,” he said “Hopefully we'll survive this and be able to restore the budgets that are so near and dear to us in agriculture because of what our land grant universities do for us in the state.”

Dendy reviewed several agriculture-related bills presented and accepted by the legislature, including:

  • House bill 960, which offers the same tax incentive to biodiesel already established for ethanol.

  • House bill 6161, which extends the rice research and promotion act until July 2008.

  • House bill 156 and Senate bill 2681, which strengthen the current seed laws and establish a seed inspection fee.

Two proposed bills Dendy mentioned failed to generate enough political support: House bill 618, which offered changes affecting the current control of funds for the soybean checkoff program, and House bill 1710 (“bona fide farmer act”) pertaining to which parties would regulate and issue permits.

Waide said the bureau has already begun formulating multiple committees aimed at determining a message for legislatures for the next regular session and pursuing cogent ways to deliver the message.

“We will involve people here (at the meeting) in this process,” he said. “We understand the problems the state has, but nonetheless, when you think of the impact ag has in this state, in the last six years we have seen over $35 million taken from it. Agriculture contributes to more than one-third of the state's economy. We can't afford to let that trend continue.”

Finally, Waide briefly commented on the ongoing discussions of controversial changes to the farm bill.

He said it is important for the general public to realize not only how vital agriculture is for America's food supply, but also how small a price the federal government subsidizes farmers compared to foreign nations.

He said he wants the Farm Bureau to play a direct and indirect role in those efforts.

“Whether it be through appropriations to our land grant universities, whether it be through direct payments to our producers, whether it be through environmental supplements to producers who are installing things for the consuming public's good, or whether it's through the school lunch program, it sends a message,” he said. “And we should be the bearer of that message that our system is the most efficient and our population is certainly the best fed, the best clothed and the best housed of any nation on earth.”

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