Serendipity is a word with an unusual history. It derives from an Italian translation of a 14th century Persian fairy tale. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, serendipity was coined by English author Horace Walpole who had stumbled upon a “fairy tale called ‘The Three Princes of Serendip.’” Walpole said the three princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
That resulted in our modern word “serendipity,” meaning “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”
It appears Mississippi’s prince, Gov. Phil Bryant, stumbled upon some serendipity himself when he selected Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith as Thad Cochran’s replacement in the U.S. Senate. Who knew President Donald Trump was about to start a trade war that could disrupt Mississippi’s No. 1 industry — agriculture.
“Agriculture is Mississippi’s No. 1 industry, employing roughly 260,000 people — 17 percent of the state’s workforce — either directly or indirectly,” reports Farm Families of Mississippi. “Agriculture contributes $7.4 billion in income — a full 22 percent of the state’s total — and an additional $16.1 billion in value-added income, representing 21 percent of the state’s total.”
The president slapped tariffs on China. China slapped back, including a 25 percent tariff on soybeans. Trump slapped on more tariffs. Farmers are worried.
“U.S. agricultural exports to China are critical to the Mississippi River economy,” Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, said, according to the Delta Farm Press. “U.S. exports of agricultural products to China totaled $19.6 billion in 2017. China is the second largest ag export market for the United States, behind Canada. China is the largest international destination for U.S. soybeans, importing more than 27 million tons of U.S. soybeans in 2017.”
Soybeans represent the third largest ag sector in Mississippi behind poultry and forestry.
“In addition to soybeans, Bloomberg News reported that China plans to impose 25 percent duties on a slew of U.S. agricultural commodities such as wheat, corn, cotton, sorghum and tobacco,” the Clarion-Ledger reported last week. “Mississippi is a leading cotton-producing state and the fourth largest exporter of cotton.”
Seems pretty clear Mississippi can use an ag champion in Washington right now. Sen. Cochran played that role well until his retirement. But an even stronger advocate may be needed if an actual trade war breaks out.
Without intending to, Prince Bryant found a well-suited person for that role. A horse-riding, boot-wearing, cattle farmer, Cindy Hyde-Smith is an authentic ag champion. “We make our living full-time from agriculture,” she said at the Neshoba County Fair in 2011 as reported by the Mississippi Free Press. She and her husband, Mike Smith, are fourth-generation farmers.
She became known as a passionate advocate for farmers and ranchers during her eight years as chair of the Mississippi Senate Agriculture Committee and the past seven as Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. Her successful leadership elevated her to important roles highly relevant for today, like co-chair of Trump’s campaign agriculture advisory committee and a representative in USDA trade missions to China.
Whatever happens in the November special election, it sure looks like Hyde-Smith’s appointment as U.S. senator for the next eight months is serendipity at work for Mississippi.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.