Republican Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior U.S. Senator, doesn’t have the high national profile enjoyed by fellow Mississippian and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. But when it comes to influencing the largest economic sector of Mississippi — agriculture — Cochran holds two key positions that make him the most powerful senator in the country as far as national farm policies and funding are concerned.
“Sen. Cochran has always had a close relationship with both agricultural producers and the agribusiness sector, and has maintained knowledgeable, well-qualified agricultural staff members in Washington throughout his career,” said James E. Newsome, commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Washington, D.C., and former executive vice-president of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association. “Through his unique role in the United States Senate, as a senior member of the Agriculture Committee and as chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, the viewpoint of Mississippi agriculture is consistently represented and ultimately reflected through all federal legislation.”
Newsome said one example of his leadership and commitment to agriculture is the nationally recognized Warm Water Aquaculture Center located in Stoneville, where improved production and efficiency in the catfish industry is researched. Additionally, Cochran is in constant contact with Mississippi agriculture organizations and Mississippi State University for input into the development of the policy and research needs of the state.
Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the Delta Council, said no one in the U.S. House or Senate has had more impact on Southern agriculture in the past 20 years than Cochran.
“He knows Southern agriculture, and he is immensely respected among his colleagues in the Senate and the House when it comes to agriculture issues,” Morgan said. “He holds the unique position of being the ranking majority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee which authorizes all kinds of ag programs from food stamps to foreign trade. He also chairs the Appropriation’s Committee for all programs administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture. So he wears two hats very critical in agriculture. He has exhibited huge leadership over all crops whether it be sugar beets in Idaho or catfish in Mississippi.”
Chris Sparkman, deputy commissioner, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, said that considering agriculture is the largest sector of the Mississippi economy, it has been particularly valuable for the state to have Cochran in key leadership positions influencing agriculture.
Sparkman and others interviewed on the issue said that Cochran’s staff is extremely competent, and probably better informed than any other staff on Capitol Hill when it comes to farm programs.
“When they were rewriting the Farm Bill a few years back, Sen. Cochran’s staff was primarily responsible for doing that,” Sparkman said. “His office is very knowledgeable about all ag programs. He has been very, very helpful with disaster payments ranging from aflatoxin in corn (a fungus in corn prevalent last year) to drought to hurricane problems in the southern part of the state. You could not get a more important position as far as agriculture in the nation, or one that is more important to the state of Mississippi.”
Sparkman said Cochran’s agriculture assignments aren’t a matter of chance, but by design. Cochran knew he could do more for Mississippi by holding key agriculture assignments than on any other committees.
Cochran’s influence means that legislation directed towards the commodities produced in Mississippi is very favorable, said David Waide, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau.
“He has been very instrumental in getting federal funds for the boll weevil eradication program,” Waide said. “And he has been influential in farm credit areas, which are of most importance to people involved in production agriculture.”
Waide said he admires Cochran because he understands the culture of Mississippi regarding agriculture, business, education and the state’s important seafood and catfish industries.
“Not only does Sen. Cochran understand that, but he understands the need to have staff who understand the diverse needs of Mississippi,” Waide said. “He has hired very competent people to work with his constituency to insure that their needs and wants are fairly represented, and that the people in the federal bureaucracy understand the diverse economic culture that we have in our state.”
Despite the current troubling economic times facing the nation’s farmers, Thad Cochran is confident the ag economy will rebound.
“Our state is very much involved in growing, processing and transporting agriculture commodities and food products,” he said. “More jobs in our state are dependent on these activities than any other economic sector. I’m confident that we can expand our markets, and see growth in the future.”