The question, "U.S. agriculture and who really gives a hoot?" will serve as the theme for the 54th annual Southern Agribusiness forum on Feb. 9 at the Doubletree Hotel in New Orleans.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, (R-Miss.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies, has been invited to give the keynote speech. His address will focus on the role of future legislation in governing agriculture in the public interest.

According to Charley Richard, chairman of the Forum, the question of who cares about agriculture often is asked by agricultural producers and processors of food and fiber products as they struggle to remain viable in today's global marketplace.

This year's forum, co-sponsored by Agribusiness councils of New Orleans, Monroe, La., Jackson, Miss., and Memphis, as well as the Louisiana State University AgCenter, will attempt to answer this question.

Richard said discussions during the forum will include viewpoints from agricultural producers as well as the public sector on such issues as environmental regulations and the use of genetically modified plants and animals.

"Speakers will attempt to provide the most up-to-date information on food and fiber production issues that affect far more than just farmers," said LSU AgCenter Agent Chet Johnson, who is working with planners of the forum.

After all, everyone has a stake in the most efficient production of everything from the food we eat to the fiber for our clothing and the lumber for our houses," he said.

Richard also said the final session of the forum will concentrate on the challenges presented to agriculture in getting its message to the media.

For further information about the forum, contact Chet Johnson at (504) 482-1107 or Pat Jordan, president of the New Orleans Agribusiness Council at (504) 286-4212.