Much of the news about agriculture these days surrounds problems with drought and low commodity prices. But the opportunities for agriculture in the new technology economy are many and promising.
“The opportunities are very broad,” says Jerry Caulder, executive chairman and CEO of Akadix Corp., an ag biotechnology company, who will be speaking at the Agriculture and Forestry Summit June 7 at the Jackson Hilton and Convention Center. “No matter how many airplanes and computers are built, the basis of the economy in the U.S. is still agriculture. It is the only product that is indispensable. You can get along without computers and televisions, but you can’t get along without food for very long. Like it or not, no one has ever built a solid economy without a solid base for agriculture.”
Caulder said Mississippi is a microcosm of the U.S. economy. The basis of the Mississippi and U.S. economy is still agriculture. Agriculture is the only business consistently year in and year out that has a positive trade balance, making ag one of only success stories with the U.S. trade deficit.
But the U.S. farming community is a victim of its own success because it produces more food than consumed domestically which reduces prices. Caulder believes the key to the farming problem is for the government to open farm markets around the world.
“U.S. farmers are still the most efficient producers of food, feed and fiber in the world,” he said. “So the key to our success is having free access to markets so our efficiencies can be translated into profits.”
Caulder was cautious about the recent China trade bill, saying that if it truly opens up markets, it will have a positive impact on U.S. agriculture. But he said he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the ultimate outcome of these kinds of agreements because too many vested interests get injected into it.
But with 1.2 billion people in China, he points out that if they even ate two or three Big Macs per year, it would take the entire U.S. corn production to raise enough animals to provide enough meat to meet the demand.
“It takes very small changes in their diet to make major changes in food consumption patterns around the world,” Caulder said. “The Chinese are saying: ‘We want more protein in our diet.’. But why use U.S. corn totally for producing more protein through meat?”
Instead, he suggests genetically engineered rice — a food that is already a mainstay of the Chinese diet — to have a higher protein content. By using modern genetic techniques to enhance the composition of foods the Chinese are already accustomed to, a major new market is developed.
“Before we could mainly produce more,” Caulder said. “Now we can produce not just more, but better food. Look at all the advances in medicine to cure diseases. If we can use modern technology to create a balanced, nutritional diet, we can prevent more diseases than all the medicines together cure. So we have to look at agriculture in the future as more than delivering calories to people, but as a way to deliver good nutrition to people.”
The upcoming Agriculture and Forestry Summit will look at ways that Mississippi educational, agricultural, business and political leaders can help promote plot a future course for ag, forestry and rural development in the state. The summit is designed to define goals and strategies for Mississippi State University (MSU) to help promote the development of agriculture and forestry in the state.
“We think we can be an extremely positive force in helping grow the Mississippi economy through agriculture, forestry and rural development,” said Dr. Charles Lee, vice president of MSU’s Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. “At the summit last year, the stakeholders presented a number of objectives that they felt we should be addressing to stay ahead. Our faculty has prepared some responses, and some of the things we are now doing that would fulfill the intent of those objectives.”
Lee said MSU is committed to helping producers adapt and prosper in the global economy. The summit will include discussion of opportunities provided by technological changes that will enhance the competitiveness of the two industries, and what producers can do to enhance their financial and risk management plans.
“I’m going to talk about new technologies that are going to be there to enhance the competitiveness of ag and forestry, and hopefully generate some new businesses as a result of the development of new technologies that have value in the marketplace,” Lee said. “I’ll talk about some things that we have to do to make us more effective in serving the needs of the state. One of those is having better telecommunications networks, more distance education opportunities so people don’t have to drive to Starkville. We want better Web sites and other things that would help people better manage.”
The public is encouraged to attend the free conference. Registration begins at 8 a.m. with sessions from 9 a.m. to noon. Speakers besides Caulder and Lee include Mark Keenum, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss); Glenn McCullough, recently appointed director of the Tennessee Valley Authority; Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center; Lee; and Malcolm Portera, president of MSU.
This is the third year MSU has hosted the ag and forestry summit. Previous summits brought back recommendations to grow the Mississippi economy through agriculture, forestry and rural community development. and also proposed a plan of action to meet these goals.
Five task forces looked at managing and leading in a global economy, developing new and improved ag and forestry products for Mississippi, building technological resources, capital development, and improved farm and forestry productivity and profitability.
“At Summit II in 1999, the five tasks forces presented 22 recommendations,” Lee said.
“The responses and plans of action relative to the 22 recommendations will be presented at the upcoming Summit. We invite you to be in Jackson on June 7 to hear these responses and to help us develop a vision and plan of action that will benefit all Mississippians.”
About 500 people are expected to attend the summit.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.