Mississippians will no longer have to pay a sales tax when they buy Mississippi-grown foods at the grocery store if the Democrat running for the state's top agriculture position gets his way.
Rickey Cole, the 53-year-old Democratic nominee for commissioner of agriculture, first unveiled his plan to end the 7% tax on any food product that the state's farmers grow on Sept. 30. He says it would bolster the state's economy and local businesses.
"Ninety percent of the food we eat in Mississippi is brought in from out of state—much of it from foreign countries," Cole said. "So now we have to pay tariffs, we have to pay income tax, and then we have to pay taxes again at the cash register. We spend nearly $6 billion a year on this long-distance or foreign food when we could be producing much of what we eat right here in Mississippi."
Cole, who served as the Mississippi Democratic Party chairman from 2001 to 2004, is challenging incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson, the Republican nominee. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Gipson, then a conservative member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, in 2018 after Cindy Hyde-Smith left the position to go to the U.S. Senate that same year.
Cole, who is 53, is from Jones County in southeast Mississippi, where his 160-acre family farm in Ellisville produces beef, fruits, vegetables and timber. His farm, he said, sells a significant chunk of its product at local farmers markets or directly to consumers.
"I'm in this race because Mississippi needs an agriculture commissioner who knows commercial agricultural production and sales. I have a lifetime of experience in both aspects of the business," he said.
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If Mississippians redirected just one-sixth of their food purchases from outside sources and toward buying from local growers, Cole estimated that could