Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is concerned about agricultural opportunities for younger generations.
"It's about a way of life, and it's about protecting a way of life because we all love what we do," the Republican governor and third-generation farmer told Missouri Farm Bureau members Monday. "We love living out in rural Missouri on farms, and we understand how important that is."
But what's more important, Parson said, is bringing new generations to the farm and giving them opportunities in agriculture.
"I don't know what they'll do, but I want them to have a shot," he said. "Maybe it's agribusiness, maybe it's not on the farm like most of us grew up."
Parson addressed farmers from around the state during the Missouri Farm Bureau's Legislative Briefing at Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center. Too many had grey hair like him, he said. It was the second time within a week the governor talked about the need to bring younger generations into the agricultural field.
Missouri ranks second in the nation for number of farms but 12th in terms of land acreage used for farming, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the number of farms in the state is declining.
The state had approximately 95,320 farms in 2017, according to the latest agriculture census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2012 census recorded more than 99,000 farms in the state while the 2007 census found nearly 108,000.
The governor told FFA students who gathered at the Capitol last week that it will be up to them to help reverse the trend.
"You've got to be able to tell the story," he told the students.
In addressing the Missouri Farm Bureau on Monday, Parson, who owns and operates a cattle farm in Bolivar, discussed legislative priorities he hopes will benefit the state's rural communities and farms.
Expanding sections of Interstate 70, developing access to broadband internet and providing more parents child care options are among the governor's priorities this session, he told the gathering of farmers. He said improving rail crossing safety is another priority that may impact rural communities.
"If you want your products to go down the road, if you want business to expand, you've got to have the infrastructure in place to do that," he said.
A lack of access to child care is one of the biggest issues facing the state, Parson said.
About half the state is considered to be in child care deserts, meaning there isn't an adequate number of day cares for the number of families in those areas. About a third of day cares in Missouri closed during the pandemic.
"We've got to find solutions to that," Parson said.
When various agricultural sectors unite, Parson said, the industry has "one powerful voice" in the halls of the Capitol. He said advocacy groups need to use that voice to fight common battles affecting them.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said the governor is one of the strongest advocates for agricultural priorities in the Capitol.
Agricultural tax credits, limiting the use of eminent domain and improvements to rural roads were among the priorities Parson said he would support through the legislative process last year.
And all came to fruition, Hawkins said.
Hawkins said 2022 was a "monumental year" for Farm Bureau initiatives despite a "tumultuous session." Eminent domain reform was passed, agricultural tax credits were extended in the Legislature's special session and $100 million was designated for rural routes.
Hawkins said the Farm Bureau has a "robust" agenda for 2023, with a bill relating to medical coverage being the top priority. The Farm Bureau doesn't want the coverage to be labeled insurance to avoid associated regulations.
Broadband and infrastructure are also among top priorities, Hawkins said.