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Commercial, truck crop farms share local roots
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The majority of Mississippi’s farms are family-owned, and they not only put fresh produce on the table but also contribute significantly to the state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.
Products of small farms tend to be sold locally, while those from large farms are usually sold as raw commodities for animal feed or further processing before being purchased by consumers. Both have their roles in food and fiber production in Mississippi.
Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said “buy local” campaigns typically promote truck crops and specialty crops, such as sweet potatoes and catfish, but the local -- typically large -- cotton, grain, beef cattle, poultry, hog or dairy farms are just as home-grown.
“There are a huge number of farms that people may see on a daily basis that they don’t recognize in the same way they recognize those producers with products at the local farmers’ market,” Larson said. “More than 98 percent of our 42,300 farms are owned and operated by Mississippi families – not corporate operations.”
Truck crops, or those products typically grown in relatively small quantities and sold from the back of pickup trucks or in farmers’ markets, account for only about 2 percent of Mississippi’s total agriculture production. In 2011, they had an estimated value of $222 million.
Ken Hood, an MSU Extension agricultural economist, said even though specialty crops account for a very small slice of the state’s total agricultural production, the majority of the state’s farmers -- maybe as high as 60 percent of them -- fall into this category.
“Most of these producers have off-farm incomes that supplement their income from specialty crops, but these are the folks people see, the local face they’re putting on agriculture,” Hood said. “These farmers sell local products people are putting on their table, compared to the raw commodities that do much to support the state’s overall economic condition.”
Hood said Mississippi generates a lot of revenue from the large commodity crops exported to other states and out of the country. In fact, agriculture is one of the areas that the state has a positive net trade, he said.
“Buy local” efforts encourage consumers to spend their money for goods that are produced in the area. The campaign suggests local products are higher quality, fresher, cheaper and better for the local economy. Larson said these advantages hold for both small-time, truck crop producers and larger, family farms.
“Since the products of most Mississippi farms may be used as feed or be processed before they are sold to the public, these farmers don’t get public exposure through the farmers’ market,” Larson said.
Farmers’ markets are an excellent source of income to producers and supply fresh products for consumers, but they are a viable option only for growers with limited production.
For producers and their employees who depend entirely on farming for their livelihood, it is not feasible to sell their harvest piecemeal to accommodate the local public, Larson said. Many of their products are basic commodities that require processing before consumption.
“It is not practical to take a semi load of corn or a side of beef down to the local market and sell it every Saturday morning. Corn is a primary ingredient in livestock feed and hundreds of food products, but there is little demand locally,” Larson said.
Larson said the United States is blessed with an abundance of readily accessible food.
“The U.S. farmers have made a conscious effort to produce healthy, quality, abundant food products, and for that reason, we are able to enjoy very high quality food products that are a lot cheaper than anywhere else in the world,” Larson said.
Even in todays’ recession economy, Americans spend an average of just 11 percent of their income on food. That percentage is the lowest in the world. Residents of the country in second place spend about 20 percent of their income on food, and people in other places spend half of their income getting food on the table.