To the casual observer, there doesn’t appear to be enough hours in the day for Randy Knight.
Elected as president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation last December, the 48-year-old Knight isn’t just a figurehead for the organization which is considered the voice for Mississippi farm families.
He’s a dairy farmer and rancher himself.
“Leaving the farm every day and going to the office has been a big adjustment and a huge challenge,” said the Pelahatchie native. “We’re up at 3:30 in the morning milking 150 dairy cows and do it all over again in the evening. The job as president has been a little busier than I expected but I’m not complaining.”
With more than 200,000 members scattered across all 82 counties, the MFBF is the largest general farm organization in the state. Simply put, it is a voluntary, non-governmental, non-partisan agency for farm families seeking solutions to problems affecting them, both socially and economically. Led by the late C.L. Neill of Jones County, the state federation was chartered in 1922.
Knight’s days since taking over as president of the MFBF have been filled to the brim. He’s traveled to meetings all over the state on behalf of Mississippi farmers while still attending to his dairy farm and 500-head of stocker calves.
“I learned my work ethic from my dad and partner, Lee, who still farms with me,” said Knight. “My biggest challenge has been managing an office of 40 people. It’s been a huge learning curve keeping everyone on the same page.”
Marketing the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation brand has become a top priority for Knight. Some want to confuse the organization with the insurance industry, he says.
“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t run into someone on the street who thinks we’re in the insurance business,” said Knight, laughing. “Back when the MFBF was formed in the early 1920s, farmers had a hard time getting insurance and we started our own insurance business. But now, we’re a different organization and one of our challenges is to do a better job of educating the public about who we are.”
One way he plans to promote the MFBF brand is through boosting agriculture by making it a part of the conversation in the state of Mississippi.
“Let’s face it – at least three times a day everyone in America depends on the farmer,” said Knight. “I think if we do a better job of reminding folks that the food on their tables is the result of the farmer, we will emphasize the importance of our farmers and what they do for all of us.”
Meanwhile, the average age of the American farmer continues to climb. According to government figures, less than 2 percent are under 25 years old, while the largest segment of the population is 65 years or older.
However, the ever-optimistic Knight says the family farm in Mississippi will always survive and prosper.
“Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of farms in our state are family-owned,” he said. “I believe the future of farming in Mississippi is very bright. It just takes a little more ingenuity and ‘thinking-out-of-the-box,’ but I still see farming as a tremendous opportunity, despite more rules and regulations imposed by the government.”
One reason for Knight’s sunny optimism is cotton prices, which have doubled in the past 16 months. Mississippi farmers are turning back to “King Cotton,” though the commodity has taken a backseat in recent years to soybeans, rice and corn planting. Rebuilding cotton farming infrastructure such as gins is vital, he surmises.
“I’ve always maintained that if (cotton) prices come back, cotton farming will come back,” Knight said.
UP CLOSE WITH … RANDY KNIGHT
>> President: Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
>> Hometown: Pelahatchie
>> Education: A.A. in farm management, Hinds Junior College; attended Mississippi State University
>> Hobbies: Following his two daughters’ activities in high school basketball and rodeo
>> Favorite movie: “Eight Seconds”
>> Favorite food: : “Steak, of course,” said Knight, chuckling. “Milk is my favorite drink.”
>> Last book read: “Drovers”
>> Person(s) who influenced you the most: Father and business partner, Lee Knight
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