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Annual gathering facilitates productive dialogue on region

Despite ag outlook, Delta Council finds bright spots

CLEVELAND — The buzz of this year’s annual Delta Council meeting mirrored agricultural woes. But good news was unveiled about the status of highway construction and teacher incentives in the Delta.

Agricultural report card

Mike Sturdivant Jr. of Itta Bena, chairman of the Delta Council’s farm policy committee, said no one can recall when all major commodity prices and crops grown in the Mississippi Delta were either at near-record lows or record lows.

“The outlook for Delta agriculture for 1999 is tremendously bleak,” Sturdivant said. “The farm policy council of the Delta Council has been constantly engaged in dialogue with congressional leaders to stress the need for a higher level of income and price stability in agriculture.”

Market signals send a message to downsize, he said, “which would be an economic disaster to areas such as the Delta.”

“The Delta Council has expressed its grave concern for the one to three year outlook on major commodities of corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and rice,” Sturdivant said.

The audience of more than 1,000 who attended the 64th annual meeting applauded keynote speaker U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) after he pledged to introduce a farm bill and to go to bat for federal government relief for farmers.

“Financial problems created by low commodity prices will soon find their way into the general economy,” Combest said.

Even though the government has spent approximately $130 billion in direct income support payments to farmers during the last 13 years, the federal government does not have an agricultural policy, he said.

HIGHWAY TRANSPORTATION

Chuck Jordan, chairman of the highways and transportation committee for the Delta Council, talked about the 1987 four-lane program entering its final phase.

“Before the end of this fiscal year, every segment of four-lane highway construction in the Delta will be awarded a contract, marking the final hurdle of the program,” he said. “During the next three years, our dream of every citizen in the Delta having a four-lane highway within thirty minutes of their home would finally be realized.”

TEACHER INCENTIVES

Teacher incentives to boost the educational level of public schools in the Delta were unveiled when Delta State University and the Delta Council announced a joint educational enrichment initiative designed to correct problems in the Delta’s primary and secondary education system.

“The Delta must attract and retain teachers at all of the region’s public, private and parochial schools,” said Indianola Public School Superintendent Cassie Pennington.

A pilot project, using public and private funds, would provide scholarships for prospective teachers in exchange for a specified period of time contract.

Another teacher incentive program designed to provide teachers with a low-interest, low down payment home loan already in place was the result of the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 1998. The Mississippi Legislature developed the Housing Assistance for Teachers (HAT) program, an employer-assisted housing plan, in partnership with Fannie Mae, the Mississippi Home Corporation and the state department of education.

“A sabbatical program for school administrators will be offered with the requirement that participants stay in the Delta for a specified period of time,” said Frank Howell, director of public affairs for the Delta Council.

At the annual meeting, Curt Presley Jr., CEO of First National Bank of Clarksdale, was named president of the Delta Council for 1999-2000. George Walker, founder of Delta Wire Corp. in Clarksdale, was honored for outstanding leadership as chairman of Delta Council’s development division.

Attendance for the annual meeting, held in Sillers Coliseum at Delta State University in Cleveland, was considerably lower than the previous year’s meeting for the economic development organization that represents 18 counties.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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