Sessions commends efforts to innovate agriculture in Lowndes County area

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 6, 2002

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Mobile) was in Lowndes County on Feb. 22 to tour the Lee Jackson Shrimp Farm, and while there spoke on the Farm Bill pending in Washington, D.C.

"Areas of Alabama like Lowndes County, and nearby Wilcox County are not on an Interstate highway, so they don't see the traffic flow other areas of the state do," Sessions told more than 50 people gathered at Jackson's unique farm, located in Mosses, a rural community in western Lowndes County. "It is all of government's responsibility to see to it that our citizens are not left out with regard to industrial development."

Jackson, a life-long resident of Lowndes County, hosted representatives from several areas involved in cutting-edge technology, including the University of Alabama, Tuskeegee University, Auburn University, ALFA, the Alabama Fish/Farm Center, Alabama Geological Survey Office, FSA, USDA Rural Development, Pioneer Electric Cooperative, and the Alabama Shrimp Growers Association.

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"I have made quite an investment in this industry," said Jackson as he welcomed the visitors. "We have a very unique resource here on my farm, in that we have an underground salt water ocean,' one that is identical to sea water, over 600 feet beneath the surface

and it can be used to farm salt water aquaculture, such as farm-raised shrimp."

Jackson said his hopes are to develop his business to a scale such that he could improve many people's ways of life, in the form of creating new jobs for those that would have them.

"We are constantly breaking new ground with this industry," Jackson said. "And the field of farm-raised shrimp is still in its developmental stage, so it takes a great deal of money for research, and there are many areas of the industry that make it extremely risky."

Jackson explained that during a power failure last summer, he was without power for more than six hours, and could very easily have lost his entire crop.

"My two 2.5 acre ponds have aerators n machines that create air in the water, for the shrimp to breathe," he said. "We could have lost everything if the power had been off for a longer period. Luckily, it was during the daylight hours."

Jackson said research has proven that three main factors effect the shrimp quality and marketability.

"Water, climate and soil are the key factors in this business," he said. "We have the identical saline (salt) content in this water as the ocean has, and the climate is actually the same during the growing season, which begins in April and extends through October. We are still researching the soil's impact on shrimp n it would seem that soil makeup has a great deal to do with the flavor of the shrimp."

Jackson said the continuing research, along with equipment costs, are more than he can stand without help from outside sources.

Regarding funding, Sessions said there are several avenues that can be pursued.

"We are working with others to try and get him the help he needs to keep this new technology prosperous," Sessions said. "He can get loans, grants, and research funding from many agencies to develop the industry.

"This is a remarkable idea n the ability to farm shrimp nearly 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico," Sessions said. "Lee has done such a great job n he is on the verge of something great for the area.

Sessions said the Delta Commission, which originally was just inclusive of the Mississippi Delta area, now includes 14 western Alabama counties, including Lowndes.

"Lowndes County was one of the original four Alabama counties to be included in the Delta Commission. Sen. Richard Shelby and myself told them in Washington that we had to include portions of Alabama in the plan, in order to attract more business n local business."

Sessions said he is supportive of legislation to provide more incentives designed to help draw more industry into an area.

"People want to be able to work near their homes," he said. "They don't want to live here and work in Birmingham n if they can work near home, they will stay at work."

Concerning the Agricultural Bill, known as the "New Farm Bill," Sessions said both the House of Representatives and the Senate have cleared it.

"We have made great progress with the Ag Bill, and now we just need to iron out the differences, and get it through the conferences," he said.

"When a U.S. senator calls and says he wants to help you upgrade and expand your business to such proportions that it would enhance life in the community, there is an immediate impact," Jackson said. "And the field of aquaculture doesn't only include shrimp n many other aquaculture products are possible, including the catfish industry."

Jackson said the road has been rough to get his business to the point it is at now, but it has been worth the trouble.

"We have had a few bugs in the industry, and we are still pioneering the field, working the balances of nature between water, soil and climate," he said.

Jackson said from the time he gets the shrimp, which must be picked up and taken from North Carolina to Mosses, to the time they have matured from their microscopic size to approximately five inches in length, is about 90 days.

"There are so many unknown variables involved in raising farmed shrimp," Jackson said. "We are still in our infancy stages of development, but I have dreams of this growing into a thriving industry n one capable of employing many of our neighboring citizens."