Agriculture is Missouri's number one industry, Gov. Mike Parson said Monday, as he proclaimed October "Pork Month" in the Show-Me State.
The governor's proclamation noted Missouri is seventh in the nation in pork production, with about 5 percent of the total pork market.
Pork products contribute more than $1 billion to the state's economy, "providing Missourians with nearly 25,000 jobs," Parson said.
Frank Forst, of Lamar — current chair of the Missouri Pork Producers Association — noted their work comes with headaches as well as hard work, including the costs of buildings to house their animals "in a warm, and safe, and great environment," and the fight against diseases like African Swine Fever.
Agriculture Director Chris Chinn praised Parson's knowledge and understanding of agriculture and its needs — including the need to pay bills — because Parson is a cattle farmer.
"Not many times that I remember have we ever had a farmer sitting over in the governor's seat," Chinn told department employees and pork industry leaders and producers preparing for a luncheon at the department headquarters, 1616 Missouri Blvd.
"What better way to understand the challenges — or successes — that we're having in the industry, than being the one who has to pay the feed bill, or the chemical bill or whatever it might be?"
She noted Parson has told several people he'd like to go to his farm near Bolivar so he can check on the conditions of the new calves and their mothers.
When he says that, Parson told the group, "I give them all this 'song-and-dance' story and think, 'This should be good. They ought to get it.' And they said, 'Governor, your next appointment is in 30 minutes.'"
"It's a privilege and an honor to be the governor, and to represent agriculture in this state," Parson said. " Anything I can do to support agriculture, I will do. The little things are as important as the big things."
Parson spent some time in Washington, D.C., last week, talking about agriculture and exports.
"One of the things we're wanting to do," Parson told reporters after the proclamation presentation ceremony, "is look at secondary markets.
"A lot of people run to China, Brazil, India — the major markets — but everybody goes there. I want to look at those secondary-tier countries, the smaller countries, that we might become trade partners with."
He noted, when he was growing up, family farms had a little bit of everything.
"I think my parents did about every aspect of it — all the way from the chicken side of it to the hog side of it to the milk cow side of it to the beef cow side of it," he said. "But I can't help thinking how agriculture has changed — and it's really changing for the better.
" The reality of it is, today we can't farm like we used to. We just can't."
The biggest change has been technology, which has improved production and helped make today's farmers "better stewards of the land" than in the past, he added.
A major challenge, the governor said, is the need to provide more food for all the world.
"We have to double the production of what's taken us over 240 years to do — we have to double that in the next 40 years, to meet the demands of the world," Parson said. "Think about how you're going to do that, because God's not going to make any more land.
"So, we've got to be better (and) more efficient at it."
In a brief news conference after the announcment of the proclamation, a reporter noted the average age for today's farmer is 58 — and Parson said he's concerned about the future of people going into agriculture.
"That's part of the workforce development plan that we're working on, and ag is going to play a role in that," the governor said. "And how do we make sure that young men and women in high school understand agriculture and what all those jobs that are out there?
"We've got to explain to people how important this is for the state of Missouri to continue that and what it takes to continue that."
Two of Parson's children have continued a career in agriculture.
But, the governor said, he understands it's tough for young people to begin making the financial investment in equipment to help operate today's farms.
"When you look back at the 1950s, for example, 50 percent of the people in this country were ag-related," Parson noted. "Someone in their family was a farmer, or had that ag background.
"Today, it's less than 2 percent."
Parson acknowledged some people argue tourism is Missouri's number one industry, with agriculture in second place.
"That's a good problem to have," the governor said. "Both tourism and agriculture play a huge role in the state of Missouri and are, sometimes, overlooked.
"I really want to highlight, as governor of the state of Missouri, how important those are and, really, what they bring to the state of Missouri."