Weather, and Politics, Can Be So Ag-gravating

I know y’all think us columnists think we know everything.

We don’t. We scratch around, dig up ideas, then toss them up as column salads. That lets you, the reader, swallow the whole thing or just the good parts.

I was scratching around recently and actually dug up dirt.

Yep, real dirt.

You see, our rich, Mississippi dirt has been too dry and too wet.

No, not at the same time.

“Due to losses caused by the combined effects of severe spring and fall flooding, and summer drought,” U.S. Ag secretary Tom Vilsack declared 79 of Mississippi’s 82 counties as disaster areas last November. That followed a report by Mississippi State Ag economists John Anderson and Michael Riley that estimated 2009 crop losses at $485 million or 30% of crop value.

Sweet potatoes got hit the worst; losses could top 60%. Cotton was next at 50%; soybeans 39%; peanuts 21%; rice 11%; and corn 3%.

Clearly, those Mississippians who depend on dirt for their livelihoods have a problem. Ag commissioner Lester Spell feared these losses would put many farmers out of business without quick relief.

“I have requested members of Mississippi’s Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to support legislative measures beyond normal USDA disaster programs to assist Mississippi farmers,” he said back in November.

Republican Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker responded with help from Democratic Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. They had to find a bill likely to pass the Senate to which they could attach relief provisions.

After several tries, Sen. Lincoln got the provisions attached to the President’s Tax Extenders salad, I mean multi-purpose tax-adjustment and relief bill. It easily passed the Senate on March 10, though Cochran and Wicker voted against it.

The bill moved to the House and right into the turmoil surrounding the Ways and Means Committee with Chairman Charles Rangel’s forced resignation.

Not exactly the quick relief sought by Commissioner Spell.

Meanwhile, on March 16 the Mississippi Legislature did pass a bill written by Rep. Greg Ward of Ripley to provide loan guaranties to sweet potato growers so they can fund this year’s crops.

Early forecasts and the Farmers’ Almanac call for more ag-gravating weather this year, predicting a wet spring and summer. Spell, farmers, and affected communities may need to seek relief from a higher authority.

So, why was I scratching around in real dirt?

Tomatoes.

You see, the thing I miss most about being a local newspaper editor is my “best tomato contest.” Great way to get free, delicious tomatoes. Tallahatchie County’s were best. But, I digress.

The Florida freeze wiping out 80 percent of the tomato crop got my attention. I confess. That’s what led me to the dirt surrounding Mississippi’s crops.

I’m gonna continue to hunt tomatoes for my salads, but my blessings will include prayers for our farmers.

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