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St. Francois County was recognized late last month for having been designated an Agri-Ready County in a brief ceremony at the courthouse annex by Sydnee Mason, a University of Missouri student who serves as an outreach specialist intern with Missouri Farmers Care.

Attending the event were Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher and associate commissioners Patrick Mullins and Gay Wilkinson; Kendra Graham, St. Francois County’s Missouri Extension; and a number of other local leaders in agriculture.

Presenting four Agri-Ready County road signs to Gallaher, Mason said, “In St. Francois County, the commission and leaders in agriculture banded together to say that they’re open for business in agriculture — to promote economic development through the industry that is agriculture because it adds billions of dollars to the state’s economy and millions of dollars to the economy here in St. Francois County. Banding together we say that agriculture is secured as a thriving component here in St. Francois County and we can’t wait for it to grow.”

According to Missouri Farmers Care, agriculture is the backbone of Missouri’s economy, generating $88.4 billion in net value in 2016 and is the largest sector in the economy, supporting 378,000 jobs and delivers $2.2 billion in state and local taxes.

To become designated Agri-Ready, the county commission had to attest that the county met all program specifications and submitted an application. With the designation, the county is expected to maintain good standing and take part in open discussions with the agriculture industry, promote agriculture in the county and reauthorize the designation on an annual basis.

“It supports agriculture if we are possibly looking into any negatives, albeit proposed ordinances,” Associate Commissioner Mullins said. “We will take it upon ourselves to meet with agriculture communities — especially the Farm Bureau. We have a number of members here that are on the Farm Bureau board and we will get with them.

“Last year I got with Mr. [Ben] Davis and Mr. [Charles] Gamble and we had morning sessions where we talked about this. At that time, we were looking at a proposed ordinance. Well, things kind of fell apart with that and we pushed this to get it where it’s at today and we’re excited. It’s also going to help with education through our county extension office.”

Kendra said, “We’re happy that we see Missouri Farmers Care involved in Farm Bureau and Missouri Extension is a good supporter of that. We’re happy that they’re promoting agriculture. I think that’s one of the biggest problems that we’re going to face — the gap between the knowledge base on where the food comes from.

“Our goal is to help educate those families that are far enough removed from agriculture and make sure they understand that milk comes from a cow and where a hamburger comes from — that it’s not a pig, it’s a cow. That their meat doesn’t come from a grocery store, it comes from an animal. We’re really excited that this is happening and that we have another layer of support on youth education.”

Kenny Graham, a local farmer and rancher, and retired agriculture teacher, expressed gratitude for Missouri Farmers Care partnering with agri-businesses in the state, as well as with the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.

“They have developed curriculum that is now available to all the schools in St. Francois County because we’ve been designated an Agri-Ready County,” he said. “That curriculum we have already mentioned is to promote and educate about agriculture — not to teach agriculture, but awareness of some of the things we’ve been talking about, like where your food comes from.

“If the local FFA chapter wants some training, that’s available too. To go out and take that information out to the elementary schools in the county to work with them. So, thanks to all of the hard work that’s been put in to develop that curriculum and to make it available to us.”

When asked if he was the one who helped spearhead the designation of St. Francois as an Agri-Ready County, Gamble laughingly described himself as “just one of the passengers as we drive through.” He explained that there were two reasons those pushing the matter had been so insistent in doing so.

“There is some way in here that the county doesn’t have an ordinance that’s more restrictive than the state, and that was the one thing in my personal situation was looking at,” he said. “It also is another way to promote agriculture. It’s one of the things I’ve lived with throughout my career and all my retirement time. I see those two reasons, if nothing else, good from this.”

According to Presiding Commissioner Gallaher, the county is definitely trying to avoid what he described as “burdensome regulations.”

“This helps set the focus on that,” he said. “It’s just a reminder that we don’t want to do something silly that would create a problem here that would be burdensome to everybody. So, it’s just a focus for us.”

He added, “Charles [Gamble] downplayed his importance, but he has been a regular fixture [at our meetings] talking about Agri-Ready. We appreciate you, Charles.”

Gamble replied, “I would also point out that Richard Detring is president of the St. Francois County Farm Bureau and really the springboard for this — when we first heard about the program — the Farm Bureau passed a resolution to seek designation for our county, so it really came from the grassroots farmers to the commissioners.”

Ben Davis with the East Central Cattlemen’s Association of St. Francois County commented that the organization he represents was pleased that the county has now been designated as “Agri-Ready.”

“We’re very glad to be a part of the process and helping support a very important industry for this part of the community,” he said.

Mullins closed out the discussion, opining that today’s farmers are being attacked from all sides.

“I think by showing the citizens that you have a very pro-farmer attitude in the commission is a positive thing,” he said. "This has been a long journey.”

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Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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