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Ag Summit Sets Agenda For State
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- State agricultural, political, community and industry leaders came together in April to outline an agenda to grow the Mississippi economy through agriculture, forestry and rural community development.
Mississippi State University spearheaded the second Agriculture and Forestry Summit in Jackson. The recommendations of task forces formed a year ago to study several aspects of Mississippi's economy were announced at this conference. Dr. Malcolm Portera, MSU president, explained the goals.
"Under the leadership of Dr. Rodney Foil, vice president for agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine, Mississippi State brought a group of people together a year ago to develop an agenda for the state of Mississippi that takes it into the 21st century," Portera said. "They developed an agenda for the economy of the state of Mississippi and described the role Mississippi State University must play in assisting the state to expand its economy."
The recommendations deal with the home, workplace and marketplace. Goals are to ensure that MSU focuses on initiatives that provide the greatest economic and social returns, and to market the state and its ag and forestry products more effectively.
A survey taken after the Summit found youth, families and communities among the top priorities of those in attendance. Rounding out the top five were prioritizing programs in MSU's ag division and promoting agriculture and forestry as beneficial industries.
Foil emphasized technology transfer and the need for the state to stay current as this field changes. He said the MSU Extension Service has provided much of the technology transfer from the university to users, but industries need to get more involved.
"Technological change will not decline and will likely increase," Foil said. "We need to stay ahead of the trend rather than following along behind."
Distance education will continue to be a valuable teaching tool.
"We feel like the entire university will be committed to distance learning, but the agriculture, forestry and rural community sectors will be absolutely dependant on it to reach their goals," Foil said.
Kaye Bryant, forest landowner and former forestry commissioner, discussed initiatives that deal with the home, and how strengthening families can contribute to economic growth. Of primary importance is preparing youth for the workplace, she said.
"Youth need an understanding of career opportunities and a work ethic that causes them to do more than just get by but to succeed," Bryant said. "We also need an educational standard across the state so we know when children leave the school system they're playing on the same field."
Dr. Vance Watson, director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, discussed changes needed in the workplace to improve the economy.
He discussed establishing a remote sensing and spatial technology center for agriculture and forestry and a biotechnology institute at MSU to address plant and animal issues.
"Scientists at Mississippi State University have been involved in biotechnology research for nearly 20 years," Watson said.
Watson emphasized the initiatives that focus on better environmental stewardship. These included a heightened focus on waste research and disposal options, new pharmaceutical and vaccine testing, and more comprehensive food safety programs. He also discussed the importance of sustainability and profitability in agriculture and forestry.
Ken Stewart, senior director of projects for Georgia Pacific Corp., said Mississippi's economic machine must become the preferred supplier of products and services internationally, not just locally.
"To be successful in this economy, we have to meet consumers' needs better," Stewart said.
To do this requires a greater public awareness of global markets, enhanced trade opportunities made possibly by reduced trade barriers, and better marketing of Mississippi agriculture and forestry products.
Portera said MSU will take the lead in seeing that these agriculture, forestry and community development initiatives are followed as a road map to improving the Mississippi economy.