Mississippi farmers and ranchers learned long ago they are stronger together. In an effort to combine their strength, Farm Bureau members descended on Natchez last week to discuss issues affecting them at the 2018 Summer Commodity Conference.

Most of the spoken concerns from members across the state revolved around infrastructure, trade and rural broadband issues. Due to the immediate infrastructure burdens Mississippi as a whole is facing, Mississippi Speaker of the House of Representatives Philip Gunn made an impromptu visit to the conference to address Farm Bureau’s members.

“I will tell you that those of us in the House of Representatives for two years now have championed and fought for finding a continuous stream of revenue to solve our road and bridge issue,” Gunn said. “A bridge being out is a cost to you. You have to reroute, you have to go further, you have to find other ways to get your product to market.”

There are two ideas the House plans to present if Gov. Phil Bryant calls a special session in August, Gunn said. The first proposal will be HB722, which was passed by the House in the last Legislative session but was killed in the Senate, he said. HB722 would divert one-third of the Mississippi’s consumption tax to a road and bridge fund. That fund would then be distributed among cities, counties and local bridge programs to be used for infrastructure.

The second proposal will be a plan to reduce income taxes in exchange for higher fuel taxes, Gunn said. The plan would phase out Mississippi’s four percent income tax over four years, while increasing the state’s gasoline tax.

“We believe these proposals have merit and we hope to get them passed,” Gunn said.

Gunn encouraged the Farm Bureau members to support the two proposals in an effort to move toward a solution.

“The big thing we’re hearing now is on infrastructure,” Lincoln County Board President Robert Earl McGehee said. “What are we going to do? How are we going to fix it? I’m not one to push tax increases, but I don’t see how we’re going to avoid (increasing) the gasoline tax to get our infrastructure back in shape. Our county roads are gone. Our state roads are gone, and we just don’t have funding that we have for the amount of people that are traveling now.”

The volatility of the trade market proves to be a huge burden for Mississippi farmers, according to Paul Tedford, a cotton and soybean farmer who serves as the Coahoma County Board President and State Cotton Committee Chair.

“With these tariff situations, you’re in a waiting period not knowing which crops (will be affected) and how they’ll be affected and the volatility of the market,” Tedford said.

Tedford said he supports any legislation that will help the American farmer when asked about the $12 billion relief program announced by the Trump administration last week. Randy Crowe, a cotton and soybean farmer in Lafayette County, agreed with Tedford.

“It’s promising,” Crowe said. “Of course, if it’s spread over all the farmers it’ll get pretty thin, when it gets spread evenly. I’m not sure just exactly how they’re going to divide it up and if it’s just the same over all the commodities or over all the farming area. I hate to see the farming community bear more brunt than other areas, but we’re not the only people in the country. The trade practices in these other countries affect the country as a whole and you just have to understand, or try to understand, that it’s for the good of the country.”

Access to broadband in rural areas throughout Mississippi served as another hot topic discussed during the conference.

“The biggest question is – how are we going to help our members in rural Mississippi stay on the farm and still be effective in their practices,” Federation President Mike McCormick said. “We want them to able to work and raise a family in a manner that somebody in town may be accustomed to by having access to reliable broadband.”

In addition to hearing from experts on emerging policy issues impacting the livestock, crop and forestry industries, conference attendees had the opportunity to express their concerns in individual commodity breakout meetings. In these meetings, individuals discussed the policies they would like to see the Federation focus on in 2019.

“I hope our members found the conference to be beneficial,” McCormick said. “I believe this type of gathering is a really good idea. It lets them spread the word about the good that they are doing and also talk about the issues they may be having.”