He has the same name as a famous comedian and even though he’s serious about the work he does, Mississippi’s Steve Martin can be humorous too. He serves as the head of the Delta Research & Extension Center and extension professor at the Mississippi State University facility in Stoneville. His areas of research include production agriculture, rice and cotton marketing, risk management and agriculture policy.
Asked the place of his birth, he quipped, “I’m from California, can’t you tell by my accent?” The truth is he was born and reared in Pontotoc County where his dad farmed and his mother was a nurse. At age 15 he had his first summer job working at the Hancock Textiles plant in Tupelo, an experience that convinced him he wanted to go to college.
After earning his first degree from MSU, Martin worked for Bryan Foods in West Point for 10 years. “I worked with raw materials, bought pork bellies and that sort of thing. Most of the people doing that are agricultural economists,” he said. “I wanted to do that so I went back to school and got an MBA.”
He took a job at the Stoneville experiment station where he was an agricultural economist for several years. That led to returning to school again to earn a doctorate in agricultural economics. “I’ve been in school at Mississippi State in three different departments,” he said. “When I talk about when I was in school, my wife asks which time?”
Martin chose this field because he was always around agriculture and liked it. He’s proud to be a part of the 600 people employed at the Stoneville facility, which is in Washington County. They’re a combination of MSU and federal employees and employees of various agencies such as the Delta Alliance. “Together we make a big economic impact on the region,” he said. “I like everything about it — the people, things we do, and getting an opportunity to be outside or be with people who work outside.”
He respects the work ethic and commitment of farmers and that they’re producing products. “They’re trying to make a living but they’re also some of the best stewards of land, air and water there are,” he said. “Farmers are very familiar with it and very conscientious about what they’re doing.”
There’s also a great atmosphere to work in at the extension center where the focus is on research. “We’re constantly trying to increase yields to stay competitive with other countries. We work toward extra bushels of soybeans or more pounds of catfish; we fight plant and animal diseases,” he said. “Challenges crop up. Sometimes we think we’ve got something fixed and it pops up again.”
Martin, 49, sees a very optimistic time in agriculture right now. “Commodity prices are very good and what’s going on with the U.S. and the world economy in general with commodities looks good over the next few years,” he said. “It’s always risky, but this is one of the best times we’ve had in the last 15 years.”
Content with what he’s doing, Martin says no matter what, he’d still be doing something related to agriculture. “If I weren’t working in research, I would be a producer, a different role in the same field,” he affirmed.
When not working with agricultural issues and research, he likes to ride horses and rope cows, something he gets to do occasionally but not as much as he’d like. He and his wife, Connie, a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools, also stay busy with their three children, Mary Frances, a college freshman, Sara Beth, and eighth grader, and Daniel, a fifth grader. There’s also a lot of church work to keep these Cleveland residents hopping.
“Our weekends are filled with horse shows and rodeos with the kids, deer hunting in the Delta and in the part of the state where we’re from,” he said.
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