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Ag commissioner candidate forum set Wednesday

April 11, 2011

By PAUL SIMS
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

From buying gas to eating food and many facets in between, there’s a great deal Mississippians do that the Department of Agriculture and Commerce regulates.
Veterinarian Lester Spell, the current commissioner for this department, will not seek a fifth term, leaving the post up for grabs in the November general election.
On Wednesday, Women for Agriculture will host a candidates’ forum for the office on the Mississippi State University campus.
All five qualified candidates have been invited to the forum, which Farmweek Managing Editor and Co-anchor Artis Ford will moderate. Farmweek is a weekly agricultural news program developed through the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The invited candidates are: Mayor Joel Gill, D-Pickens; State Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven; agribusiness owner, retired vocational agriculture teacher and retired banker Max Phillips, R-Taylorsville; state Rep. Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman and Reform Party candidate Cathy L. Toole of Biloxi.
Audience participants will be allowed to submit questions, said Alan Barefield, extension professor in agricultural economics, adding the moderator will select those of general interest and give each candidate a chance to respond to all questions presented to them.
The candidates will also make opening and closing statements.
The forum will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday in the Bost Extension Center Building B in the theatre.
Because of the department’s regulatory mandates, “it impacts just about every Mississippian. It’s not just agriculture. It’s a lot more than that,” Barefield said.
The list on the department’s website of its regulatory oversight is extensive, covering 16 specific areas. These include agricultural aviation, grain inspection and weighing, a honey bee program, meat inspection, petroleum products inspection and weights and measures.
Sylvia Clark, vice president of Women for Agriculture, hopes the public will think about the importance of this office and not just pass it off as something they don’t need to care about because they aren’t in agriculture.
“The commissioner’s job is a lot more than people think it is. It’s not just doing things for the farmers,” she said.
The forum will allow attendees “see the views of the different candidates” on such areas as agricultural marketing and regulatory work, Barefield said.
Spell, the outgoing commissioner, became the first mayor of Richland – his hometown – in 1975, according to his biography on the department website. He held this position until he took the commissioner’s post in January 1996. Spell was re-elected to the position three times and is the state’s first Republican to hold the office.
The candidates’ forum will take place during the three-day Women for Agriculture conference, an educational program started five years ago.
“We’re trying to set a stage where women can become full partners in production agriculture or agribusiness,” Barefield said. He described the former area as row crops, beef cattle, aquaculture, forestry and timber, generally anything which produces a raw material and the latter as businesses and organizations which include feed stores, banks, fertilizer dealers, agri-tourism operations and processing plants including such products as timber, soap and food.
Another main goal is to help them “form a support network for each other and sound ideas off each other,” Barefield said.
“We would like all women who are interested in agriculture to join” Women for Agriculture, Clark said.
For information on the forum, call Alan Barefield at 325-7995.

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