Paige Manning with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce says farming is a 7.9 billion dollar industry in the state. The mild climate and rainfall make it ideal for growing many crops. That's why Mother Jones Magazine wrote that Mississippi has the potential to increase its production of fruits and vegetables. Manning says the state is the third largest producer of sweet potatoes and ninth in blueberries nationwide. But, she explains that 97% percent of growers are small farmers, who raise everything from cotton and grains to lettuce and tomatoes.
"They sell places like local farmer's markets, restaurants, schools. A lot of them have 'you pick' operations on their farms." said Manning.
Manning says Mississippi can increase its sweet potato and blueberry production because shipping networks are in place to get those crops to markets worldwide. Tim Cooper, owner of Cooper Farms, in Morton, thinks the state can be a major player in supplying other crops, but says right now it's too risky.
"The problem is getting someone to come in and buy it." said Cooper.
Cooper sells his fruit and vegetables to farmer's markets and grocery stores. He says farmers are willing to grow more crops, but there is no distribution center or cannery in Mississippi to purchase what they harvest and ship to markets for sale.
"It's sorta been a stalemate. The farmer won't plant because the cannery wouldn't come in and the cannery won't come because the farmer won't plant type deal." said Cooper.
Cooper says raising money to grow crops and getting the labor to harvest them is manageable, once a distribution system is in place.