Randy Knight was elected in early December to his third term as president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.
Like most heads of advocacy organizations, Knight is finalizing Farm Bureau’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8.
Near the top of the legislative wish list is making sure no changes are made to the state’s animal cruelty law, which was passed in 2011 after a compromise between Farm Bureau and animal rights groups. It makes a second offense a felony.
“We’d love to see that compromise upheld,” Knight said.
Legislation legalizing deer farming, an issue packaged as a one that will drive economic development by attracting out-of-state hunters to deer farms, has failed the past few sessions. Allowing it would endanger livestock, Knight said.
“It carries significant risk of disease.” Deer farming is legal in 33 states.
Also on the legislative agenda is some kind of reform to the state’s cattle theft laws. According to 2011 numbers provided by Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, an average of 250 cattle are stolen per year. That number could rise, with droughts in Texas and the Midwest shrinking the U.S. cattle herd and driving up prices.
It involves more than rustlers stealing cows out of a pasture, Knight said. Buyers at sale barns can pose as legitimate cattle companies and make off with truckloads of cows because they’re allowed 48 hours to tender payment. Any legislation would have to protect sellers, Knight said.
Knight said his primary mission for Farm Bureau itself will be to grow the federation’s membership. He said the number of member families in 2012 exceeded 200,000 for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.
“Our emphasis is educating the general public on what Farm Bureau does,” Knight said. “If people knew how we stood up for them in the Legislature and in Washington, more people would want to be a member of Farm Bureau.
“And we’re always growing our education process,” Knight continued. “If we don’t tell our story, and what we’re doing on the farm and how we’re taking care of our animals, somebody else is going to tell it for us. And it won’t be told the right way.”