Agriculture Still Important For Mississippi’s Economic Success

Mac Gordon

Donuts on Cake

The season’s first named hurricane, Fiona, had moved away from the continental U.S., and a dry end to September gave rise to a dateless idiom: Hope springs eternal in Farm Country for a bountiful harvest.

However, another storm capable of obliterating the possibility of a substantial gathering of crops came just after Fiona’s exit. If Ian had reached the central and western Gulf of Mexico, cotton, peanut and soybean production along coastal Georgia and Alabama and the Mississippi and Louisiana deltas could have been altered.

Ian disastrously roared ashore far away from the vital food-and-fiber growing regions, keeping hope alive for a bountiful harvest for agrarian interests.

That’s the way it is annually in the fields and valleys of the agricultural South: Final harvests can’t be known until these evil weather systems settle down.

Most economic analysts point to agriculture as the main industry in our part of the world. If you Google, “What is Mississippi’s number one industry,” agriculture almost always pops up.

However, one site, Britannica.com, rates manufacturing and services (primarily government) as the top sectors and adds, “Mississippi’s economy became less dependent on agriculture in the second half of the 20th Century, and the number of farms and farm acreages declined significantly.”

Lumber and wood-related production puts Mississippi far above other states’ average in production of those commodities.

You can always count on the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce touting “ag” as the state’s leading industry. If not, there’d be less need for that agency, which claims that almost 18-percent of the state’s workers are directly or indirectly tied to the farm. Agriculture by most accounts is an $8.33 billion industry in Mississippi.

Georgia’s agricultural leaders claim that the industry employs more than 55-percent of the state’s workforce. In Alabama, ag has supposedly been replaced by automaking, aerospace, healthcare, mining of ore, limestone, ore, beverage and food processing and tourism.

Arkansas has no qualms recognizing agriculture as its leading industry. One website labels it as a $16-billion affair, but that’s twice as big as Mississippi’s ag sector, making no sense. Statistics are fluid and often misleading.

Oil, natural gas, commercial fishing, chemicals and ag rate as the five leading industries in Louisiana, to no surprise.

Economic development looks different in many places (and certainly different from ag), but one parallel stands out: These states will dish out the heavy dollars to land the latest hot-shot industrial prospect.

In Mississippi, thoughts of the tax breaks and other incentives it took to get Nissan and Toyota dance in the mind. (Goodness, what did it take to ensnare Ingalls Shipbuilding way back when? I digress.)

A recent state court ruling in Georgia has cast a cloud of gloom over the notion of attracting industry through massive forms of, shall we say, financial encouragements. This ancient method of luring business clients is particularly prevalent in the southern states. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it.

On the eve of an official groundbreaking, a Morgan County, Georgia (along I-20) judge ruled that due diligence wasn’t done by developers in a $5 billion effort to bring electric carmaker Rivian to the area. The judge decided a bond sale to finance the plant might not be “sound, feasible and reasonable,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Furthermore, the judge “sided with seven residents who challenged the Rivian incentive deal, ruling that the type of land lease negotiated with Rivian is one subject to property taxes …. The ruling sent shockwaves through Georgia economic development circles,” the newspaper reported.

Besides, the 2,000-acre site might best be suited for peanut farming.

Donuts on Cake