Agriculture still important to Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 2, 2006

W hile industrial prospects and the potential jobs and tax revenues they would generate get the publicity, agriculture remains firmly rooted as the backbone of the Miss-Lou economy, community members say.

In 2005, Concordia Parish agricultural producers grossed $65,655,262 between row crops, fisheries and animal enterprises, according to the LSU AgCenter&8217;s 2005 Louisiana Summary. That&8217;s a lot of money, and while some of it escapes the local economy, a lot of it stays right at home, local businesses say.

Like any other business, farmers rely on bank financing for capital to go about their jobs. The banks, many of which originated strictly to serve farmers, may have begun to diversify their investments, but agriculture is still vital to their health.

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Tommy Millican, vice president of Concordia Bank & Trust, estimated that nearly half of the bank&8217;s total revenues are derived either directly or indirectly from agriculture.

&8220;From A to Z: home needs, business needs, operational and long-term needs,&8221; he said. &8220;So much of our base income is derived from agriculture in one way or another.&8221;

Revenue generated by agriculture also comes back to the parish as a whole in the form of property taxes. And while the 223,839 acres of planted lands&8212; more than half of the parish&8217;s 371,488 total &8212; is assessed at a reduced rate on account of its usage, it still brings in nearly $500,000 to the coffers.

Timber and fresh water marsh lands acreage account for an additional 116,920 acres, bringing the total percentage of the parish&8217;s land dedicated to agriculture up to nearly 92. These numbers come from the office of Concordia Parish Tax Assessor.

Although the real estate taxes brought in by agriculture make up only five percent of the parish&8217;s 2005 ad valorem assessment of $9.6 million, the work and business it supplies to the community more than make up in other areas.

Many stores service the farm industry and obviously depend on it for their business, but you don&8217;t have to be a co-op or tractor store to need farmers as customers.

&8220;Without the farmers, we&8217;d be closed,&8221; Billy Addison at Ferriday&8217;s NAPA Auto Parts said. &8220;And it&8217;s not just farm-related stuff.&8221;

A self-reliant group, Addison said they sell a lot of parts and supplies for personal vehicles.

Kevin Case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture&8217;s Concordia Parish Farm Services Director, said vehicle sales and maintenance are a major plus for the economy.

&8220;Parts dealers, auto dealers,&8221; he said. &8220;If you take farming out, you sell a lot less F-250s.&8221;

Lakeside Ford&8217;s William Pugh agreed with the assessment, saying his pickup sales were a good barometer of how the season is going.

&8220;We can tell what kind of year they&8217;re having,&8221; he said.

The feeling is shared across the river.

Agriculture is not as big a part of Adams County&8217;s economy, but the estimated $17.7 million its producers gross annually isn&8217;t exactly chicken feed.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service doesn&8217;t release county-by-county statistics on a yearly basis. The last summary was produced in 2002.

&8220;It doesn&8217;t compare to Concordia, but as far as our economy goes, it is very important,&8221; MSU Extension Service County Agent Don Smith said.

&8220;In our county, we only have a little bit of delta land; we get pretty quickly into hills.&8221;

Those hills are full of trees, the logging of which accounted for $7.7 million of the total gross for the 2002 census period.

&8220;It&8217;s very important to Adams County, we have 120 direct employees in the Miss-Lou and another 100 or so indirect on logging crews,&8221; J.M. Jones Lumber Co. President Lee Jones said. &8220;That&8217;s 250 we directly pay, all due to the trees.&8221;

The other major timber concern in the county, Rives and Reynolds, operates two mills and employs nearly 70 people, Vice President Bruce Reynolds said.

&8220;With what happened to IP, between them and us, we&8217;re probably one of the largest employers in county,&8221; Reynolds said.

While it has taken jobs from the economy, the closing of International Paper has not had catastrophic effects on the county&8217;s timber industry, both Reynolds and Jones said.

&8220;When they closed, they kept the yard, so they still buy pulpwood,&8221; Jones said, but they ship it 110 miles to their closest mill, so they can&8217;t pay as much.&8221;

And with IP not offering as much for pulpwood, the other major purchaser in the area, Georgia-Pacific, has lowered its purchase prices to fit the market.

&8220;Everybody pays exactly as much as they have to, and not a penny more,&8221; Jones said. &8220;That&8217;s just human nature.&8221;

Reynolds and Jones said the surplus of wood the 2005 hurricane season produced hasn&8217;t impacted their operations much.

&8220;The supply of lumber east of Pearl River was the main area hit, Adams County wasn&8217;t really affected,&8221; Jones said.

Reynolds said he expects to see the timber industry continue its health.

&8220;I don&8217;t look for it to change,&8221; he said. &8220;Something drastic would have to happen to really drive the prices down.&8221;