A special interim House committee finds much potential in Missouri’s number one industry, but potential not being realized.

Agriculture injects more than $12.4 billion annually into the state’s economy, employing more than 245,000 workers. It could have a larger impact.

Rep. Charlie Schlottach (R-Owensville) chaired the House Interim Committee on Emerging Issues in Agriculture. He sees a tremendous amount of natural resources that haven’t had value added to them.

“We’re simply in the Dark Ages, as far as I look at it, in regard to adding real value where our commodities can become specific products and really be exported across the world and be used in a lot better situation than they are now,” Schlottach tells the Missourinet.

Schlottach raises cattle and uses beef as an example to make his point. He says he has heard often about how cattle producers benefit from beef exports.

“I appreciate that particular discussion. I appreciate that discussion that goes on, but it’s hardly a marketing plan,” says Schlottach.

The report says the work of the wine and grape industry should be used as a model for other agricultural sectors to use. The small industry, according to the report, has added value to the grape harvest; creating jobs, introducing entrepreneurship and developing a product. Marketing is the key says Schlottach. The report suggests the State Department of Agriculture work with the University of Missouri and commodity groups to develop specific agricultural products that can be marketed. Schlottach says such value-added farm products are the key to success in farming.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out here, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve developed the leadership that we need to in order to add value to these raw commodities,” according to Schlottach.

Schlottach sees that evident in his business, raising beef cattle. The beef industry has been a staple of Missouri farming over the years. Breeding stock, though, is shrinking with estimates of cow losses in Missouri ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 head the past few years. Missouri’s rugged pasture ground lends itself to raising beef. Many Missouri herds are small. Some Missourians raised cattle as a sideline and Schlottach says that if profitability declines enough, they have to cull their herds or get out of the business altogether.

The House Interim Committee on Emerging Issues in Agriculture was actually appointed by former Speaker Rod Jetton. It issued its report on January 27th of 2009. Schlottach admits to being very discouraged the report has been largely ignored.

“I think it really proves the point that we haven’t identified the leadership, not everybody necessarily is on the same page here,” Schlottach tells us. “That’s not only policy makers; these are institutions, not everybody’s on the same page in regard to moving forward.”

We’ll explore one particular finding of the report on part three tomorrow.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [4 min MP3]

AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Rep. Schlottach [30 min MP3]

Download full committee report (PDF)