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State’s public universities prepare workforce for ag industry

According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, agriculture remains Mississippi’s number one industry, with almost 35,000 farms covering 10.4 million acres in the state. The 7.72 billion-dollar industry employs 29 percent of the state’s workforce, either directly or indirectly.

The Mississippi Small Farm and Agribusiness Center (MSFAC) at Alcorn State University is meeting the managerial and mechanical needs of Mississippi’s small farms and related agribusinesses. Since 1988, MSFAC has worked with small-and-limited-resource farmers, alternative enterprises, and agribusinesses in the identification of marketing opportunities, food safety, enterprise selection, financial resource acquisition, production technology, harvesting and post-harvesting handling methods, value added product development, organizational development and new industry nurturing.

The Center is committed to growing small farmers through technical assistance and enhancing the capacity and sustainability of new farmers and ranchers with a holistic agribusiness approach. A key focus of the MSFAC is the development of new and beginning farmers. Through the Farm Management Educational Program (FMEP) that is working to recruit, train and equip 300 new, beginning farmers and ranchers (BFRs) with the tools and resources necessary to generate and implement a feasible farm plan and become sustainable in vegetable and meat goat production.

Jackson State University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) has developed a cost-saving Sustainable Irrigation System (SIS) that could be used to determine just the right amount of water needed to saturate soil for gardening and agriculture.

The smart device, which includes sensors and an app, automatically activates a sprinkler system if stored rainwater is insufficient. Several CSET students were responsible for developing the app, an experience that prepares them well to enter the workforce.

CSET developed SIS after a challenge from various organizations to build sustainable applications in local areas. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United Nations’ Sustainability Program are promoting better food, water and energy practices. These are to be achieved through the development of sustained resources, including renewable solar energy, with the goal of reducing reliance on conventional resources.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Mississippi State University prepares students to enter the agriculture field through numerous degree programs including agribusiness. Agribusiness is a degree program in agricultural economics, one of the top 10 majors with full-time employment and among the top 10 majors with the highest employment rates. Students may enter a variety of careers, including agricultural law, agricultural policy analysis, economic consulting, agricultural production management, commodities marketing, and food chain supply management, which includes processing, sales, and distribution, and more. Over 100 firms in the Fortune 500 are agribusinesses.

Agriculture and agribusiness are a vital part of Mississippi’s economy, and veterinarians play an integral role in the success of the Mississippi farmer. Almost 16,000 of the state’s farms have cattle, and the greatest threat to their profitability being the loss of animals due to disease. These farmers, as well as others in Mississippi’s poultry, catfish, and hog farming businesses rely on the knowledge and expertise provided by food-animal veterinarians, who ensure the health and well-being of their animals—and ultimately, those who consume them.

The Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine is educating veterinarians, and the veterinary medical technologists who work alongside them, to serve this need. A DVM degree from MSU provides a generalist education, meaning graduates are trained to care for all domestic species, and as one of only a few colleges of veterinary medicine in the nation that requires two full years of faculty-mentored clinical experience, one can rest assured these new doctors enter the workforce well-prepared to render the services needed throughout our state.

Mississippi Valley State University offers the state’s only Master of Science in Bioinformatics degree, designed to provide students the opportunity to explore the field of bioinformatics through the integration of mathematics, computer science, and molecular biology. Computation tools and lab work prepares students for careers in agribusiness working with crop selection, disease resistance of plants and production. Research from MVSU Bioinformatic students exploring the annotation and characterization of cotton genomes have been helpful for organizations like the United States Department of Agriculture in determining the variety of cotton most suitable for each region.

University of Mississippi students have the opportunity to work alongside researchers, helping to solve some real-world agribusiness problems and gaining experience that will prepare them to the enter the agribusiness workforce.

The National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi discovers and develops natural products for use as pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, and agrochemicals. Research focuses on the biological and chemical properties of medicinal plants as potential crops for Mississippi farmers. NCNPR facilities include production greenhouses, demonstration garden beds, shade houses, field plots, and biomass processing facilities. The USDA Agricultural Research Service Natural Products Utilization Research Unit is co-located with NCNPR in the Cochran Center on the University of Mississippi Oxford campus.

The University of Mississippi’s National Center for Physical Acoustics (NCPA) expertise is applied in the use of acoustics to non-destructively determine the structural health of earthen levees and dams, measure the sediment payload carried by rivers and streams, accurately count fish stock in real time, determine soil erodibility, and remotely measure the subsurface profile of agricultural soils. The porous media group is focused on acoustic/laser imaging and detection as well as agriculture-related projects for the USDA. Additional research is addressing areas specifically important to the state of Mississippi, such as catfish health, and viability of flood control dams.

The University of Mississippi Field Station is a modern teaching and research facility with state-of-the-art buildings and labs. Located on a 740-acre site, research covers a broad spectrum of disciplines, from the potential healing properties of plants to turkey behavior, fish growth and reproduction, controlling invasive insect species and mitigating pesticide run-off from farm fields.

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