For the first time in many years, friends and supporters of the University of Missouri and its Delta Center were joined by the state's governor for the Delta Center Appreciation Breakfast at the Rone Exhibit Hall on the Lee Farm in Portageville during the 44th annual Delta Center Field Day.
Celebrating its 131st year, the University of Missouri's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources is also seeing record enrollment this year, according to the university's officials. With over 4,000 freshmen this year, enrollment is up 17 percent.
Agriculture is not only Missouri's No. 1 industry, but also has the greatest potential for growth, Gov. Matt Blunt said in his remarks following the breakfast.
Blunt said his administration is doing everything it can to "work hard and work with farmers" and to "get out into the state and the rural community."
While his administration has faced challenges with the state budget, "we were able to balance a budget that was broken," he said, adding that he was able to accomplish it without a tax increase that would be a burden on Missouri's workers.
The current budget includes "full funding for ethanol incentive fund," according to Blunt, funding which will remain in place for the next budget.
Having supported ethanol production, the governor said ethanol consumption now has to be encouraged and is calling for a 10-percent ethanol blend requirement for the state.
"We would be the fourth state to do this," Blunt said. "It would indeed reduce the dependency on foreign oil."
Blunt said it is important to "be a leader in plant biotechnology" and look for opportunities for value-added agriculture while remembering that commodity agriculture continues to be the base. "It's important that we lay that foundation," he said. "Delta Center has made remarkable steps forward."
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, 8th district, also spoke following the breakfast.
"We are constantly facing threats to change farm programs," Emerson said, as this region continues to meet challenges to remain "the safest, most abundant food source in the world." She said she is optimistic about the next farm bill, but "obstacles remain and the main obstacle is money."
Emerson also recognized "the wisdom of our governor in appointing Fred Ferrell as the head of the Department of Agriculture."
In introducing the next speaker, U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, Emerson said Missouri is lucky to have senator on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
She said Talent is responsible for the national energy policy which calls for 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be added to the nation's fuel supply by 2012. The House's version of the bill, Emerson recalled, called for 5 billion gallons. "Jim, he insisted on 8 (billion)," she said.
Emerson also noted Talent's efforts in opening new markets to U.S. agriculture such as Cuba which she said has committed to buying 130 metric tons of U.S. rice.
Talent said the Delta Center not only has tradition, but builds on tradition for the future. "I want to congratulate you all for your vision," he said, adding that he is more optimistic about agriculture now that he was 10 years ago.
"The challenges are still there, but I also see the path to prosperity in the future," Talent said, citing MU's rising enrollment, new markets and value-
In discussing his success in adding a renewable fuels standard for ethanol and biodiesel to the federal comprehensive energy bill signed into law on Aug. 8, Talent said Americans will be "putting in our tanks what we are growing instead of what we are buying from those who hate us," Talent said.
Our farmers will be not only feeding America, but also fueling America, he said.
Talent also touched on the subject of drought relief and including Midwest farmers in a disaster relief bill. "I'm hoping we can get help," he said.
In closing, Talent said the Delta Center's dedicated work, research and development is more important than what legislators do. "Your leadership is what's crucial," he said.
U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, 9th District, who is originally from Mississippi County, said that he has been in politics for nine years and farming for three.
North central and northeast Missouri has not been getting rain from the recent gulf hurricanes like Southeast Missouri has, Hulshof said, and as a result corn yields are down 70 percent in his district.
"We need you to stand with us," Hulshof said. "We need to everybody on the same page."
Recalling the "squeals of delight" from his daughters as his family picked sweet corn during a scenic sunset, he promised: "I will continue to fight like the family farm depends on it because it does."
Tom Payne, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and director of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, said we are lucky to have people in high places from Southeast Missouri and recognized dozens of dignitaries attending the event from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to state representatives Peter Myers and Lanie Black.
Payne also said this is a big transition time for production agriculture. "Commodity agriculture is critical and its what keeps people in business," he said, while value-added agriculture is "the future of this industry."