It is time to till the soil for EDA

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 3, 2009

If you read Monday’s paper then you already know that planting time is here.

I must confess that the agricultural articles that run in our newspaper every Monday are not the first thing I read.

It’s just that our garden is measured in square feet, not acres, and soybean rust is the least of my worries.

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And yet, I devoured this Monday’s daily agricultural report with interest, and not because I was ready to get my hands dirty.

No. I read Monday’s article out of a sudden realization of the parallels between farming and our current predicament with economic development.

Listen to the words of local farmer David Yates.

“(The fall) is when you row up the land and, if you need to deep till it to allow for the corn to reach deep down and get moisture during the spring and summer, you deep till it.”

Yates went on to say that deep tilling isn’t necessary unless you are farming a plot of hard ground.

As I read this I thought of plowing the hard earth during the dust bowl days. History books tell us that years of neglect and bad farming practices sapped the land of its nutrients.

Farmers today realize that it takes hard work and preparation in the fall to get the soil ready for planting in the spring. It may take burning or deep tilling or even letting the ground lie fallow.

In the past several months local civic and business leaders have expressed concerns that our local economic development efforts have been insufficient.

They contend that private business does not play an active role in economic development. The local EDA focuses too much on job creation and not enough on job retention. Efforts fail to foster an environment that attracts jobs. The reputation around the state is that Natchez does not cooperate and work as a team.

The list of concerns leaves the impression that we are farming in unprepared soils.

Yes, on occasion, we have produced a few success stories — the CCA prison and Rentech to name two. But is that just a result of a few seeds taking root in rocky soil? Maybe, maybe not.

What are we actively doing to till the land and create that fertile soil that will lead to good crops?

In recent weeks the Natchez Adams Chamber of Commerce has sent out a survey to ask a variety of business and community leaders about what they think the local EDA should look like and how it should operate.

Like testing the soil to determine with which fertilizers and nutrients we need to add to our garden, this survey will help determine how our local EDA needs to be amended.

Just getting test results, however, will not ensure a bumper crop.

It will require hard work, long discussions and likely some concessions all around to determine what an effective EDA for Natchez will look like. It will require all of us, local leaders and residents alike, getting our hands dirty.

City aldermen and county supervisors are required to review the EDA each August. In the past, leaders have neglected this part of the law and continued to operate with the status quo. Like repetitive crops that take nutrients out of the soil, the status quo has seemingly done the same thing to the local economic development environment.

Between now and August we need to be open and listen to the Chamber’s survey results and begin tilling the soil for planting in August.

Because as any farmer will tell you, without fertile soil there is no crop.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at