Poultry, forestry still bedrock of MS agri-economy

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, January 1, 2020

While Mississippi has made great strides in attracting new capital investment and in bringing new technologies to existing industries, the bedrock of Mississippi’s economy continues to be agriculture — specifically poultry production and forestry.

With 10.4 million acres dedicated to farming operations statewide on 34,700 individual farming operations that average about 300 acres in size, agriculture directly or indirectly employs about 29 percent of Mississippi’s total workforce.

As the Mississippi Legislature convenes, a review of the substantial impact agriculture has on Mississippi’s economy can’t be overstated.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Mississippi Extension Service at Mississippi State University issues annual status reports on those industries and on Mississippi agriculture in general each year and those reports reflect that despite challenges like historic flooding and changes in market opportunities for hardwood pulpwood, poultry and forestry continued to anchor Mississippi’s estimated $7.39 billion total agriculture value in the state.

That $7.39 billion figure is up .0.2 percent over 2018. But analysts report that the 2019 total includes $628 million in government payments, the largest package of federal assistance since 2006.

Poultry production was Mississippi’s leading crop at $2.8 billion, down about 3 percent from 2018. Mississippi ranks fifth in the nation in poultry productions behind Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

With producers operating some 1,430 broiler farms and 1,410 million eggs produced, MSU’s Extension Service reports that Mississippi farmers saw challenges from reduced egg prices and from the industry shift to no antibiotic ever or NAE production.

Forestry in Mississippi in 2019 had a production value of $1.15 billion. Analysts noted a downward trend in housing starts since the 2015 peak. The scope of the industry in the state can be measured in the fact that 125,000 landowners are raising timber on 19,700,000 acres in the state.

Extension analysts report that issues like paper mill reductions have impacted hardwood pulpwood market opportunities, but that the emerging wood pellet industry is seen as a positive market influence.

Enviva is constructing a $140 million wood pellet energy facility in George County with a $60 million ship-loading terminal in Jackson County that the company and state officials said back in May would initially produce about 100 new jobs and create new diverse markets for Mississippi timber producers.

In support of the plant, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson wrote in an op-ed column: “Gaining investment in the talented people and growing economic engine of Mississippi should be a top priority for our local and national leaders … in George County, for example, the unemployment rate is nearly twice as high (and) simply put, we need the jobs supplied by the forest products industry. In fact, working forests (already) support over 47,000 jobs in Mississippi and a payroll of more than $1.7 billion.”

Beyond poultry and forestry, Extension analysts reported the impacts of the U.S.-China tariff standoff that saw production values in soybeans drop from $1.06 billion in 2018 to $762 million in 2019. Despite the decline, soybeans are still Mississippi’s leading row crop.

Cotton’s production value was $585 million in 2019, up about 1 percent. Extension analysts noted that more cotton was planted in reaction to the tariff-driven fears of soybean production. Increased supply drove prices down.

Corn production values were $455 million. Hay produced $151 million and sweet potatoes $95 million. Rice values fell 19 percent to $91 million.

Mississippi continues to produce about 55 percent of the nation’s farm-raised catfish. The Catfish Institute reports that 94 of all U.S. farm-raised catfish is raised in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. TSI says the industry employs nearly than 10,000 people and contributes more than $4 billion to each state’s economy.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.