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Producers Prioritize Top needs for MSU Support

By Ms. Bonnie A. Coblentz


Dozens of agricultural producers met Feb. 21 with Mississippi State University professionals to offer direction on priorities MSU research and outreach should pursue in 2023 and beyond.

The event was the annual Central Mississippi Producer Advisory Council meeting, held at the MSU Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond. The half-day event was a listening session for MSU and an advising session for producers and those interested in starting ag businesses.

"The goal of this event is for our producers to have an opportunity to interact with the various specialists and faculty members to create dialogue and share their ideas relevant to the local communities we serve,” said Angus Catchot, interim director of the Central Mississippi R&E Center.

“This is your opportunity to steer our research and outreach by telling us how Mississippi State can help you meet your goals,” Catchot told attendees.

Keith Coble, vice president of the MSU Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, participated in the sessions and gave a division update.

“We are building a new leadership team in the ag division, and it is going to be a hardworking, hard-listening team,” Coble said.

Participants broke into groups to discuss beef/forage/equine, small ruminants, ag crops, vegetables/fruits/nuts, forestry/wildlife and apiculture.

The beef, forage and equine group said its top priority is cold-tolerant ryegrass variety trials in central Mississippi. Other high priorities included long-term studies on cover crops, regenerative agriculture and soil health.

Small ruminants had been included with other livestock in recent years, but so many producers came to discuss sheep and goats that they gathered for their own discussion.

Leyla Rios, Extension small ruminant specialist and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher, presented the needs of this group.

“We found producers would like a starter guide for new farmers who want to raise sheep and goats, Rios said. “They are also interested in reproduction biotechnology, specifically artificial insemination and embryo transfer for these species. And they would want to see some efforts toward buck/ram tests in Mississippi conditions.”

The group focused on agricultural crops spent a lot of time discussing the problem of deer damage to corn, cotton and soybeans. Hunting is not allowed during these crops’ growing seasons without a permit, and damage can become severe before a permit is granted.

Producers asked MSU to conduct population studies of corn, cotton and soybeans, as well as an examination of nitrogen sources for the crops in their area.

Keith Benson, manager of the Alliance of Sustainable Farms, lead the discussion of the needs of those involved in vegetables, fruits and nuts.

“Our top priority from last year moved down because there is some movement being made on filling the open vegetable positions at MSU, but we still kept that as the second priority because we need the support,” Benson said.

Steve Martin, interim director of the MSU Extension Service, said there were six or seven specialists at the meeting as a direct result of needs outlined in previous advisory council meetings.

“There is a labor shortage, and it’s taking us a long time to find some of the people we need to fill these positions,” Martin said.

The current top priority is assistance for small producers to meet guidelines similar to the Produce Safety Rules as they sell to end users at farmers markets. There is a need for educational opportunities for new gardeners, including young people and retirees, as well as training and resources needed to promote organic vegetable production.

Those interested in forestry and wildlife continue to rank educational programing on carbon sequestration as their highest priority. They again requested for MSU to hire a specialist in mass timber products, and they want to raise awareness and see increased programming on disturbance management activities related to invasive species encroachment after a forestry disturbance.

New this year was a request for MSU to advance efforts toward a patent on a disease-resistant Christmas tree cultivar.

Finally, apiculture producers requested increased information for beekeepers. They asked for an educational video series, a monthly mailing with updated information and a series of hands-on workshops on bees.

Producers in north Mississippi met Feb. 16, and those in south Mississippi met Feb. 23 to discuss their priorities for MSU research and outreach activities in support of agriculture.

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