Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation members and staff have made a strong impact in Washington, D.C. in the last few months by sharing their viewpoint on crucial issues affecting the agriculture industry.

F.A.R.M. Fund Political Action Committee

In January 2020, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation launched a federal Political Action Committee, or PAC, after 93% of MFBF delegates voted in favor of its establishment at the 2019 Annual Convention Business Session.

The MFBF Furthering Agriculture for Rural Mississippians Fund Political Action Committee, also referred to as the F.A.R.M. Fund, is comprised of Farm Bureau members from across Mississippi who voluntarily contribute to efforts supporting agriculture and rural Mississippi’s friends in Congress.

In a letter penned to all active MFBF members in February explaining the purpose of the F.A.R.M. Fund, MFBF President Mike McCormick, former MFBF President David Waide, MFBF PAC Study Committee Chair Mike Ferguson, and MFBF PAC Study Committee Vice-Chair J.B. Brown wrote:

“To sustain our industry, we need Congress to support farm bills, fight burdensome regulations, pass trade deals to open and maintain strong export markets, and to support and introduce legislation that protects and enhances the priorities of Mississippi farmers. As farmers and ranchers, we make up less than 2% of the U.S. population. Because of this, it is increasingly important our voices be heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress on the policies affecting our operation.

Not only should we reach out to the members of the Mississippi Congressional Delegation, but we also have to work with other key congressional leaders, committee chairs, and advocates of our industry from across the country to make sure our message is heard.  Establishing and supporting the F.A.R.M. Fund provides a way for us to stand together and help the friends we have in Congress advance good policy for Mississippi farmers and ranchers for many years.

A contribution to the F.A.R.M. Fund will help these key members defer the excessive costs of running and maintaining a campaign in today’s political environment in order to represent our best interests in Washington.  As people with a stake in Mississippi agriculture, we humbly ask you to do your part to support the F.A.R.M. Fund at some level and stand with us to make sure the voice of Mississippi agriculture is heard in Washington.”

The MFBF Board of Directors established an interim PAC Governing Committee, or PGC, comprised of thirteen MFBF leaders in February. Members of the interim PGC include:

  • Mike Ferguson (Chair) – Tate County
  • David Waide – Clay County
  • Dan Bishop – Lee County
  • Matthew Poe – Pontotoc County
  • Kirk Satterfield – Bolivar County
  • Willard Jack – Humphreys County
  • Lonnie Fortner – Claiborne County
  • Janelle Good – Noxubee County
  • Janet Parker – Covington County
  • Brian Rhodes – Rankin County
  • Taylor Hickman – Forest County
  • Dot Cole – Perry County
  • B. Brown – Stone County

The interim PGC held their first meeting on February 28, 2020, and voted to provide support to the following candidates for U.S. House of Representatives in the March federal primary.

  • Trent Kelly – First Congressional District of Mississippi
  • Bennie Thompson – Second Congressional District of Mississippi
  • Michael Guest – Third Congressional District of Mississippi
  • Steven Palazzo – Fourth Congressional District of Mississippi
  • Kay Granger – Twelfth Congressional District of Texas

The interim PGC also voted to provide support for U.S. Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“Today, an average U.S. House race averages about $1.9 million, and an average U.S. Senate race averages about $9.2 million,” Ferguson says. “It is imperative all Farm Bureau members do their part and support the F.A.R.M. Fund. We thought the first step in making our contribution selections was to help our members of the Mississippi delegation as a way of thanking them for all that they have done for the agricultural industry. We look forward to continuing to reach our goals for the F.A.R.M. Fund in 2020 and beyond.”

To contribute to the F.A.R.M. Fund, visit www.farmfundpac.org. Contributions can be made with a credit card online or by downloading and mailing a contribution form with a check. Contributions must be made using a personal check or credit card, not through a corporation. Under Federal Election Commission rules, corporations are prohibited from contributing to the F.A.R.M. Fund.

Broadband Connectivity & Precision Agriculture Policy

Rural broadband deployment serves as a major focus area for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, which is why so many of the organization’s resources and efforts go toward this issue.

In February 2018, the FCC released a map showing areas across the United States presumed eligible to receive support for mobile broadband services. In essence, the map shows Mississippi is 98% covered, which Wicker and Farm Bureau dispute. Farm Bureau was granted a waiver by the FCC to file a challenge to the proposed maps. MFBF then partnered with the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) to file data with the FCC that disputes the maps.

In April 2019, McCormick traveled to Washington, D.C. to provide a congressional testimony before members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on the rural broadband needs specific to agriculture and rural America. The hearing focused on mapping current broadband and how current mapping systems are inaccurate. McCormick shared MFBF’s experience with the FCC Mobility Fund Phase II challenge process and stressed the need for more aggregate data collection on the ground.

In November 2019, McCormick was appointed to the newly formed FCC’s Precision Agriculture Task Force, representing the U.S agricultural community. The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which directs the FCC to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop policy recommendations to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of broadband Internet access service on agricultural lands, created the task force. Federal advisory committees were established by Congress to provide federal agencies with outside, expert advice on policy matters.

With his appointment to the task force, McCormick was selected as the chair of the “Adoption of Precision Agriculture and Availability of High-Quality Jobs on Connected Farms” work group. The work group will explore how to promote adoption of precision agriculture technologies and how such technologies will affect demand for skilled labor in the farming and ranching sectors.

In January 2020, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker was named chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. This committee has jurisdiction over numerous programs at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that deploys federal dollars to make sure under served areas of the country have access to broadband.

Following Wicker’s appointment, the FCC announced plans for the establishment the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural America. This investment in rural America would be allocated through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain.

The $9 billion fund also would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs. The FCC also announced in early 2020 the launch of a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to address the “digital divide,” or the gap between people who have access to the internet and those who do not. Over the next decade, the FCC will pay out the fund to broadband and cable providers, wireless companies, and electric co-ops.

In addition to Wicker’s support, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has played a major role in promoting broadband to rural America as a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. For the past few years, Congress has appropriated over $500 million to USDA for its ReConnect Loan and Grant Program through rural development.  The ReConnect Program offers unique federal financing and funding options in the form of loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in areas of rural America that do not currently have sufficient access to broadband, defined by the law as 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

This program will generate private sector investment to deploy broadband infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet connectivity to as many rural premises as possible, including homes, community facilities for healthcare and public safety, schools, libraries, farms, ranches, factories and other production sites.

We are fortunate to have members of Congress, like Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Farm Bureau leaders, like MFBF President Mike McCormick and AFBF President Zippy Duvall, positioned in key roles at the federal level to mold federal policy that helps bridge the digital divide in Mississippi and many other rural areas of the country.

Justin Ferguson is the Federal Affairs Coordinator at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.