YAZOO CITY, MISS., DEC
7, 2002: Some 125 growers, researchers and other agriculture
advocates gathered here Dec. 7 to look into the future of farming
in delta country.
Organic cotton pioneer Steve McKaskle keynoted the Mississippi
Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's first statewide conference
-- "Agriculture That Lasts: How to Keep Farming." (See
McKaskle's personal cotton research center" for
more on his farm operation.) The event was Mississippi's first statewide
sustainable ag conference
Kicking off the historic event was Dr. John Ikerd, one of the acknowledged
prophetic voices of sustainability, according to conference organizers.
(Ikerd’s November address to farmers in Oregon was run as
a 3-part series on the New Farm® web site. Click
here to check it out.)
"Agriculture today is in the middle of a great transition,"
said Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the
University of Missouri and a long-time Extension researcher in Oklahoma,
North Carolina and Georgia. "What once was characterized by
family farms and rural communities is now characterized by industrial
Such "biological assembly lines" often split communities
between "those who stand to profit from them and those whose
quality of life will be degraded," he said. As multinational
corporations increasingly control agriculture, Ikerd said, the production
of the nation's food and fiber may well follow manufacturing overseas,
where land, labor and other inputs could mean even higher profits
for shareholders and corporate officers.
The downside to such a myopic view, besides financial and social
ruin in Rural America, Ikerd said, would be to lose one of the most
important ingredients in national security. "We could become
as dependent on other countries for food as we are for oil,"
he said. "How many small wars will we have to fight as a result?
How many people will have to die?"
In sustainable agriculture, by contrast, "Farmers work together,"
Ikerd said. "They build communities with their customers and
each other. "It's about caring," he told the audience.
"It requires operating with a sense of moral character and
Ikerd urged a new direction in federal and state farm policy. In
addition, he said, consumers should buy as much of their food locally
as possible. "Our security depends on relationships,"
How to keep farming: More
than 30 recipes for success
Throughout the one-day conference, participants from across the
state chose from among some 30 presenters from six states on a host
of subjects aimed at "how to keep farming."
Speakers represented USDA, university extension services, Appropriate
Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) and other public- and
private-sector organizations. More than a dozen farmers gave their
own sustainability perspectives.
Presentations included livestock-related topics such as ATTRA specialist
Ron Morrow's grazing species diversification to NRCS specialist
Walter Jackson's silvipasture management overview.
Extension vegetable researcher Bill Evans emphasized the advantages
of having a frequently updated farm plan. Delta Regional Authority
executive director Hayes Dent and Congressional aide Charlie Horhn
offered a "view from the inside" of ag policy, while grower
Fred Stokes of Porterville presented a contrarian's view of government's
attempts to help farmers.
Attendees also learned of profit potentials in specialty farm products.
Cut flowers and mushrooms, said Extension researchers Crofton Sloan
and Joe Buzhardt, could fit the resources of many small farms. ATTRA's
Anne Fanatico and pastured-poultry producers Steve Schrock of Prairie
and Ron Brandon of Pontotoc insisted area demand will support many
more of their kind. Freshwater shrimp farmer Steve Fratesi of Leland
offered a similar assessment of his enterprise.
Conferees heard M. C. Ellis of Mayhew tell how he markets 15 acres
of produce both on-farm and through small-town farmers' markets.
Linda Boyd of Oxford and Jennie Lee of Etta presented both their
successes and challenges in growing and selling organic fruits and
vegetables. For those concerned about the organic certification
process, Kevin Brussell of the Illinois Steward Alliance focused
on opportunities "beyond organic”.
"There were so many different kinds of people who came,"
said Nan Johnson, one of the event's organizers. "It was great
beyond my wildest dreams." "People are hungry for this
information," added Joe Buzhardt of Alcorn State University's
Small Farm Center.