Ag candidates: Limit eminent domain

Published 11:19 pm Monday, September 12, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — The two major-party candidates for Mississippi agriculture commissioner said Monday that they support country-of-origin labeling for products such as catfish and beef.

Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven and Democrat Joel Gill of Pickens also both said they support an eminent domain initiative that will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot because they believe it would protect private property ownership. It would restrict governments from taking private land for economic development projects.

Hyde-Smith and Gill spoke at a luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

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The Reform Party’s Cathy Toole is also in the agriculture race.

The current commissioner, Lester Spell of Richland, chose not to seek a fifth term. Spell was elected agriculture commissioner four times as a Democrat, then switched parties in 2005 and was elected as a Republican in 2007.

Hyde-Smith, 52, and her husband, Mike, are cattle farmers and partners in Lincoln County Livestock, where weekly cattle auctions are held. She is a three-term state senator, serving as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee the past two terms. She was a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party this past December. She defeated two candidates in August to win the Republican nomination.

Gill, 59, is a cattleman and has been national membership chairman for R-CALF USA — Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America. He is the current mayor of Pickens and previously served as an alderman. He was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner.

Hyde-Smith and Gill said they support some role for agriculture in the growth in alternative fuels.

Gill said he strongly opposes the use of corn for biodiesel because, “I don’t believe we need to be using food for our fuel.”

Adding that he believes ethanol is bad for small engines, Gill said, “You’re talking about putting corn whiskey in your car and driving it down the road.”

Hyde-Smith said the price of corn has increased because of its use in ethanol, and that has driven up expenses for cattle farmers. She said Mississippi agriculture can be useful in other ways for alternative fuel.

“We have a tremendous forest inventory in Mississippi, and cellulosic biodiesel, cellulosic biofuels — Mississippi State has studied that for 20 years,” Hyde-Smith said. “The technology is there, and I think that’s a direction we need to look at.”

The candidates expressed slightly different opinions about genetically modified crops.

“If you want to use them, that’s fine,” Gill said. “But what is happening in the real world is as you have these Roundup-ready crops, you’re getting Roundup-ready weeds that are becoming super weeds.”

Roundup is an herbicide made by Monsanto.

Hyde-Smith said she has no problem with farmers growing them, as long as they’re using products that have received federal approval.

“In my lifetime, I’ve seen some yields increase 300 to 400 percent in certain crops, and it’s because of a lot of genetically modified crops,” Hyde-Smith said.