Houston senator named Friend of Agriculture
Jolly honored by Farm Bureau
Special to the Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – Sen. Russell Jolly of Houston is the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s 2013 Friend of Agriculture for the Mississippi Senate.
The presentation was made during the organization’s annual meeting in December. Sen. Jolly represents Dist. 8, consisting of Chickasaw, Calhoun, Grenada and Lee counties. He is the vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“One of the biggest surprises I’ve had during my first term serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee was discovering that agriculture is affected by bills that crop up in other areas,” he said. “With highway transportation, you must worry about rural roads and bridges being properly maintained so farmers can get their products to where they need to be. With wildlife, the issue of how feral hogs are being controlled is important to farmers. You have immigration and many farmers across the state depend on immigrant labor. So you have something with just about everything.”
Immigrant labor is a big issue of concern for state farmers right now.
“We’ve done a lot of research on this, and we’ve learned that Alabama passed a law that cost them over $2 billion in economic damage,” Sen. Jolly said. “I don’t think Mississippi can afford that. Still, many of our farmers depend on immigrant labor and the problem needs to be worked out.
“In my district, we have Vardaman, the Sweet Potato Capital of the World. Growing sweet potatoes is essential to the economic well-being and growth of Vardaman and Calhoun County. Without immigrant labor, I don’t feel the industry would be where it is today, and it is not only sweet potatoes, but forestry, blueberries, poultry – the whole thing. It’s a problem, and we need to work it out, but I think we need to work it out through the federal government.”
As a cattle farmer, Sen. Jolly says he understands the importance of maintaining the Animal Cruelty Compromise Bill that was set in place a couple of years ago.
“In my opinion, we have compromised probably all we can compromise in that area,” he said. “Farmers take care of their animals better than we take care of ourselves. That’s just like my father and my grandfather always taught me: If you don’t take care of your animals, they won’t take care of you. I know I spend a lot more money on them than I do myself.
“With some of the problems we are having now in that area, what worries me is that we have over seven billion people in this world that we are trying to feed,” he said. “In 2050, they are projecting we will have over nine billion people. Being able to feed them is our biggest concern. Related to that, funding for land-grant university and agricultural research is important because it’s the only way to feed those nine billion people in the world.”
Sen. Jolly was instrumental in getting several key pieces of legislation through the committee in his two years in office.
“The most popular, I feel, was the Cottage Food Bill,” he said. “That bill allows small food operations who are under $20,000 to be exempt from Department of Health regulations for nonhazardous foods. We also had the Catfish Labeling Bill, which closes a loophole in the Mississippi Country of Origin Labeling Law, where foreign fish were being labeled U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish. The Livestock Theft Bill creates criminal penalties for stealing livestock and requires buyers at stockyards to pay promptly upon purchase of animals. I am proud of all of these bills.
“Agritourism is another issue we’ve worked with that’s very important. Kids today are about two or three generations removed from the farm and agritourism teaches them what farmers go through. I think agritourism is an excellent way to help promote agriculture.”
Sen. Jolly sees Farm Bureau as being essential to state agriculture and to his work in the Mississippi Legislature.
“Farm Bureau is probably the biggest reason I ran for the Senate,” he said. “I had served as a county Farm Bureau president and a state board member for many years so I was familiar with the agricultural issues. I also knew how important it is for agriculture to have a strong voice in the Legislature.
“Now that I’m here, I don’t know what I’d do without Farm Bureau’s help,” he said. “I depend on Samantha Newman and her staff to keep me up-to-date on current problems and issues. Randy Knight has also been an awfully big help. Agriculture is the number-one industry in the state, and that’s where we need more focus. We don’t have enough farmers in the Legislature, and we need more to protect our rural way of life.”
In conclusion, Sen. Jolly says that in his work with the Senate Agriculture Committee he has discovered the committee has an outstanding chair in Senator Billy Hudson. He and Sen. Hudson also work closely with Rep. Preston Sullivan and Rep. Bill Pigott, the chair and vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee.
“We work together, along with our committee members and Farm Bureau, to strengthen Mississippi agriculture,” he said. “That is our main goal.”
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization with more than 190,000 member-families statewide. There are Farm Bureaus in all 82 counties in Mississippi where agriculture comprises a fundamental part of Mississippi’s economy. Headquartered in Jackson, the federation is an independent, non-profit agricultural organization and is not associated with any arm of the government.
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