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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

Local man enjoys his chance to give back to agriculture

Sunday, August 14, 2005

(Photo)
Fred Ferrell
CHARLESTON - When Fred Ferrell became director of agriculture for Missouri in January, he sacrificed a 40-year-old farming career and role as a manager at Mid-Valley Irrigation, which he founded in 1977.

But it was all worth it to him, and he is thankful for the opportunity.

"I'm very appreciative of the people who have let me to do this - Gov. Blunt, my wife, and others," Ferrell said. "They have allowed me to be able to give back to agriculture what agriculture has given to me - a very rewarding career."

And he is in the process of giving back and making a difference, he said. As director, Ferrell manages the department's six divisions and represents the state's agriculture industry through his involvement with several boards, commissions and national organizations.

"We have been in the process of an internal assessment of the agriculture department and the mission it relates to - serving agriculture for the state of Missouri," Ferrell said of his accomplishments since taking office. "Agriculture is the largest industry in the state of Missouri, and we are addressing all issues that make an impact directly and to our consumers in the state."

These include tailoring services toward both mandatory and voluntary health and safety measures, animal identification standards and the assessment of the pet industry in the state.

One of the big issues Ferrell has recently been directing his attention to is assessing the current drought in Missouri. "There is a significant drought in 104 counties," he said. "The northwest and southeast tip are not as affected as central Missouri, but this is a tremendous problem for the state, both for the economy and the farmers."

Two weeks ago, Ferrell, along with Gov. Matt Blunt, toured state farms, assessing drought damages. "We were looking at not only the quality (of the crops), but also the yield potential," he said. In some areas, harvest yields will be as low as 50 percent, so he sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

"I asked him to declare Missouri a state of emergency," Ferrell said of the letter submitted last Aug. 5. If this request is permitted, farmers will receive advantages to offset their losses as a result of the drought.

"We're ready for a good rain to come across the state," Ferrell said. While he admitted it's too late for the corn crop to be helped by a rainfall, rain would really help soybean farmers, in addition to those with pastures and hay fields across the state.

"This drought could have a significant impact on our cattle industry in the near and far future," Ferrell said, noting that Missouri is second in the nation in the number of cow-calf pairs. Some cattle ranchers may have to sell their livestock because they either aren't getting hay or it is too expensive. Several farmers are currently feeding hay, although it is typically only fed in the winter months.

The heat is already impacting the poultry and dairy industries as well, Ferrell said, because it gives the animals additional stress.

The agriculture department is also encouraging the possibility of two ethanol plants to be located in Southeast Missouri. "We think that will be a great benefit," he said.

Local ethanol plants will help farmers receive more money for their corn, making it a value-added product in addition to giving consumers from as far as St. Louis and Memphis an affordable, alternative fuel source. And with close access to the river, transportation is quite affordable, Ferrell added.

Another pressing issue, for both the state and the country, is the transition of farming into the next generation. The average age of farmers today is 59 years old, and Ferrell and others are searching for ways to attract young people to farming.

"It is important that we raise our food and don't get into the situation we are in today with oil," he said. Agriculture leaders are working to give opportunities to young farmers, so the tradition of having the most affordable and safest food in the world is passed on through the generations.

"We intend to pave that road and make it so you have the yield curves and the signs that will make it easier for you (young farmers)," Ferrell said. Developing risk-management insurance, producing more value-added products and creating more alliances are some of the keys for attracting young farmers, he said.

"In ten years, who represents agriculture will be a completely different person than today," Ferrell said. "We are planning innovative ways to make this transition better - not smoother, but better."