Monday, October 05, 2015

Reiboldt: Agriculture important to Missouri's economy

(From Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho)

Agriculture is Missouri’s number one industry. Our state is home to more than 100,000 farms, 90% of which are family owned and operated. Over 300,000 Missourians are employed in agriculture-related occupations. Agriculturally, we produce a diverse array of goods, services and commodities, including such crops as soybeans, corn, cotton, and rice; livestock, that includes beef, poultry, pork and dairy; forestry and wood products, including wine barrels that are shipped around the world; and various fruits and vegetables. There are even programs designed to teach inner-city boys about entrepreneurship through the agricultural experience.

Because our state is so driven by agriculture, Missouri’s legislators want to have a more thorough understanding of our state’s agricultural community when establishing policies and making laws. To better grasp the complexities of the industry, agriculture committee legislators take informational tours (Keeping Current With Missouri Agriculture) yearly. Recently, we completed two. On the first tour we had the privilege of visiting Tyson’s Foods at their Sedalia facility and learned Tyson’s operates six food processing plants in Missouri; the two in Southwest Missouri are in Monett and Noel. Their Sedalia facility processes over 2 million chickens weekly and provides jobs for well over 1,000 individuals. Tyson’s is one of the largest food processors in the nation. Statewide, they employ 5,600 people with over 400 poultry growers, 125 cattle suppliers, and 98 hog suppliers. Since they pay employee wages of almost $200 million annually, they have a significant financial impact on our state’s economy.

Next, the tour moved on to Kansas City, where the group was privileged to get an up-close look at the Boys Grow Farm, a facility that provides inner city boys aged 12 - 15 with opportunities to see and work with farming and business programs. Using agriculture to instill pride, identity and discipline, as well as to gain an understanding of entrepreneurship, these boys do everything associated with running a farm and a small business. They pick the produce, pull the weeds, and tend the chickens; and they do the marketing and the selling of the products. They are compensated for their work and are given an opportunity to earn a paycheck. The boys have the responsibility to show up on time, be in uniform, and be accountable for their work.

Aerial agriculture—specifically, drones—was another of the presentations provided on the tour. This agri-business showed how farmers and ranchers can utilize commercial drones in their individual operations for such things as crop and other data acquisition and analysis.

In addition, the Kansas City Health Corridor group discussed information related to the concentration of the region’s animal health companies. The tour group learned that companies in this particular area include more than 300 animal health businesses that represent approximately 56% of animal health, diagnostics, and pet food sales worldwide. Tour-goers also learned that the financial impact of these products and services is approximately $50 billion in sales annually.

The final stop on the first tour was the BNSF intermodal facility outside of Kansas City. While this facility is actually located in the state of Kansas, it is instrumental in shipping containers filled with agricultural products—including Missouri agri products—to other markets. In 2014, BNSF reported hauling nearly 1 million carloads of agricultural products and commodities. Its facility is capable of handling up to 500,000 shipping containers annually.

Our second tour took place in late September and allowed us to visit the agriculture education facilities of Missouri State University at Springfield. We began at the Darr School of Agriculture and traveled to Mountain Grove, where we made a stop at the Journagan Ranch. This approximately 3,000 acre donated ranch boasts an impressive herd of registered Hereford cattle. In Mountain Grove we also toured the University’s Fruit Experimental Station. Here they grow varieties of peaches, apples, pears, and elderberries. We then moved on to the Shealy Farm, where they have a beef finishing operation and raise cattle to 1,200 pounds before processing. All these places we visited were instrumental in the education of the University’s agriculture students.

The following day we went to Monett, where we toured the International Dehydration Plant, a facility that dehydrates chicken to be used in other food products. Afterward, we traveled on to Diamond where we were privileged to tour the Diamante Red Angus Farm and observe a herd of well-behaved, exceptionally fine quality cattle before finally moving on to the Joplin Regional Stockyards, the number two stockyard in the nation for marketing livestock. In 2014, over 400,000 head of cattle moved through this facility, with receipts totaling $585 million.

No doubt, Missouri is home to some very impressive farms and agri-businesses, and after touring these facilities, it is easy to see why agriculture is Missouri’s number one industry and to understand how important it is to the economics of our state.

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