Written By: Rebecca Patrick
Email Address: rebecca.patrick@jcjc.edu
Date Submitted: 2012-02-06 08:59:01

ELLISVILLE – With Jones County Junior College commemorating the institution’s centennial year and beginnings as an agricultural high school, it seemed fitting that the JCJC Foundation’s 7th Economic and Technology Symposium focused on the impact of agri-business in Mississippi.

More than 200 business and industry leaders from across the state attended the symposium held Thursday at the Ronald E. Whitehead Advanced Technology Center. The symposium featured speakers from several areas of the multi-faceted agri-business sector as well as a keynote address by Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“You travel the state and you know that there are people out there who are making the effort to do the research and to bring people in and say, ‘This is what it’s like to have an occupation in agriculture,’” Smith said of her reason for attending the symposium. “Events like this are important for educating people on the economic importance of agriculture in Mississippi.”

Speakers who gave presentations on selected fields included: Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council; Dr. George Hopper, dean of the colleges of forest resources and agriculture and life sciences at Mississippi State University; Lampkin Butts, president and chief operating officer of Sanderson Farms; Tedrick Ratcliff, vice president of the Mississippi Forestry Commission; and Tim Ishee, cattle rancher and JCJC agriculture instructor.

According to statistics presented by Hopper, agri-business is a $7.025 billion dollar per year industry in the state, accounting for 29 percent of jobs.

“During this sluggish economy, believe it or not, agriculture has been an exception,” Hopper said. “Indeed, agriculture is a bright spot (in our economy).”

Wilson concurred with Hopper using information gathered through “Blueprint Mississippi,” a privately funded public-private sector partnership committed to the development of primary goals and recommendations to move the state forward economically.

“Agriculture is second in impact and importance as to Mississippi’s employment base,” he said, listing food processing, timber/wood processing and poultry among the areas included in the study.

Wilson further explained that a Georgetown University study indicates that by 2018, 54 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education. He said that Mississippi’s two-year colleges are primed and ready to meet this challenge.

“This is a perfect example of making a difference in workforce development,” Wilson said. “This is where the rubber meets the road. Community colleges are the backbone of workforce development.”

He added that individuals who would like to know more about “Blueprint Mississippi” can keep track of the latest information on the web at www.blueprintmississippi.com.
Butts, Ratcliff and Ishee gave overviews of Mississippi’s poultry, forestry and cattle industries, respectively.
Butts informed attendees that Sanderson Farms, with operations in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, is the fourth largest chicken processor in the United States and competes in the global marketplace. With its corporate headquarters located in Laurel, Sanderson’s current processing capacity company wide is 9.375 million chickens per week.
“Our key strengths are that we are a low cost producer, we have a favorable product mix, an attractive growth profile and a strong balance sheet,” he said.

Ratcliff opened his segment of the program with a brief history of one of the state’s oldest industries, forestry. He explained that Mississippi trees produced much of the timber for the ties used to build the Intercontinental Railroad in the 1860s, to rebuild Chicago after the great fire in 1871 and to make the posts and pilings during the building of the Panama Canal.

“Today, Mississippi is the largest tree farmer state,” Ratcliff said. “Forestry is a $14 billion industry.”

Ishee told the audience that beef cattle production is the single largest agriculture industry in the United States. With more than 900,000 head of cattle in Mississippi, the industry faces two major challenges: food and fuel shortages. He said that by 2035, the world will need to double its food production to meet growing demands.

One of the ways JCJC will be helping to meet that food production need is by partnering with area veterinarians, many of whom are Jones graduates, to train ag-science students in the use of genetics and artificial insemination techniques.

“We are teaching our students the latest and greatest beef production strategies,” Ishee said. “This is definitely going to be a drawing card for us here at Jones Junior College.”

“Programs like we’re having today are wonderful,” said Hyde-Smith. “I wish every county in the state would have one of these at least once because people need to hear (about our agriculture industry). This is so important.”


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