Ag commodities groups identify priorites for research, education

ABERDEEN — Advocates for agriculture met recently at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona to identify priorities for research and Extension Service education programs at Mississippi State University.

Scientists from the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, specialists with the MSU Extension Service and almost 250 members of the North Mississippi Producer Advisory Council spent the day discussing current research and educational needs, as well as the challenges growers face on their farms.

Gary Jackson, director of MSU’s Extension Service, said Mississippians support their local Extension agents and rely on them to share the research findings generated by specialists and scientists. In turn, Extension specialists and agents want their work to meet the needs of their clients.

Fourteen agricultural commodities groups — including beef, cotton, dairy, equine, forestry, fruits and nuts, goats, grain crops, ornamentals, peanuts, sweet potatoes, swine, turf and vegetables — met separately. Aquaculture, the fifteenth group usually represented, did not attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Several common themes emerged in the group presentations.

Beef cattle representative Jacob Megehee of Noxubee County saw a need for recruitment.

“We need to draw in younger generations, and we can do that if we show a better profit,” he said. “We need training for producers on economics and management. And we really need a cool season grass to extend the grazing season.”

Dairy producer Grandy Ladner of Tate County suggested establishing a mentoring program, similar to one in Kentucky, to help bring interested youth into the industry.

Educating stakeholders and the general public was another common theme.

Sadie Gardner said the equine group struggles to get local leaders to understand the need for equine events at local county ag centers.

Providing up-to-date information to producers and consumers was a priority of fruit and nuts producers and the growers of ornamental crops.

“We need updates on recommended varieties, information on new varieties and trial plantings, and what other crops might work in Mississippi, such as dates, walnuts and olives. If we could find a variety that would grow here, we could diversify,” said Gerald Jetton of Itawamba County, who represented the newly formed fruit and nut group.

Sherra Owen said the ornamentals group needs research on insect and disease resistant plant varieties, organic disease control methods and pest control strategies.

Bobby Moody of the grain crops group had very specific research requests for MAFES scientists.

“How does poultry litter compare to commercial fertilizer? What types of irrigation and sources of water are most efficient? What’s the best application timing for herbicides? These are all important, but our number one request is research on what happens when you plant corn behind corn, on both irrigated and dry-land acres.”

Swine group representative Byron Wilson of Chickasaw County stressed the need for support from MSU’s scientists as producers face increasing environmental regulations and restrictions.

Turf growers, represented by Harry Collins, requested research on the tensile strength of mature sod, as well as continued work on herbicide resistance and cost issues, and studies on products that conserve nitrogen.

Weed control research continued to be a request for both the cotton and sweet potato commodities groups.

Joe Camp spoke for the cotton growers, who want more Liberty Link® cotton varieties and continued variety trials.

The sweet potato growers, represented by Benny Graves, executive director of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, said continuing the seed stock program is important.

“We need nematode control strategies. We need further end rot research,” he said.

Like many other groups, peanut producers need variety trial research to continue.

“We’d like to see varieties for north Mississippi, not just south Mississippi or Georgia, as well as new seed types,” said peanut chair Reid Nevins.

Mississippi’s producers feel strongly about their role in feeding and clothing the world, and the goat producers said they have some advantages.

“Goats will eat just about anything, and they take less space to produce than larger livestock,” said Jimmy Howell. “Mississippi is a good place to raise goats but it’s also heaven for parasites, and we need specific research from the university on parasites, forage varieties, nutritional supplements and herd health.”

Most attendees focused on the big picture: how to produce the best crops possible for the greatest profit, while maintaining healthy environments for future generations.

Lisa Hart spoke for the vegetable growers.

“We’re concerned about our pollinators,” she said. “We can’t lose our bee populations, so we’d like to see beekeeping become a research and education priority. We’d like to see an irrigation cost share program in northeast Mississippi, similar to the program in the Delta.”

Logging wastes and how to deal with them effectively was the first priority of the forestry group, represented by George Byrd of the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

Bill Herndon, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center, said this meeting has been held annually since the mid-1950s and he anticipates its continued success.

“The tremendous support producers, researchers, Extension specialists and agents, industry personnel and commodity leaders provide to our North Mississippi Producer Advisory Council meeting is evidence of the value of the information shared among these partners,” he said.

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