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An Ambassador for Agriculture


Veteran Mississippi entertainer and wildlife conservation advocate Paul Ott recently received the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Ag Ambassador Award for 2012. The Ag Ambassador Award recognizes individuals who have gone beyond their normal range of activities in promoting Mississippi agriculture, and it isn’t given every year – only when Farm Bureau feels that it has been earned. The award was presented to Ott during Farm Bureau’s annual membership meeting in December.

No one deserves the honor more.

The 78-year-old singer, songwriter and storyteller has spent his life travelling the state, the nation and the world, promoting wildlife conservation and giving others a glimpse of the lifestyle and values that have sustained farmers and rural Southerners for centuries – important bedrock values like God, family and country.

And he is not done yet.

That his popular radio/television show, “Listen to the Eagle,” celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013 is a testament to his enduring popularity. Paul Ott’s show, named for a song he penned in 1976 in honor of America’s bicentennial, focuses on wildlife and conservation issues and on agriculture and other topics.

Ott got his start in entertainment through the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission (now the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks) in the 1970s as their public relations manager. He began promoting their educational programs using songs he wrote and sang himself, songs like “Take a Boy Hunting” and “Plant a Tree.” He says he wanted to appeal to kids, and he knew that kids loved music.

Ott used videos and sounds with his music – images of kids running with dogs and the sound of a hound dog baying – because he knew this would also capture people’s attention. He says he was the first musician to use videos with music. He got the idea to include sounds with his songs from the late country entertainer Jerry Clower of “Knock ‘Em Out John” fame.

Paul Ott’s songs became so popular that other Southern states came calling. Eventually, the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C., asked him to take the ads to all 50 states.
Ott has presented his program, “Listen to the Eagle,” to all 50 state governors’ conventions, to over a million school children and to six state legislative sessions. He has sung for two U.S. presidents upon their request. He presented Mississippi’s own Oprah Winfrey her Angel award. Ott has made appearances in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and he appeared at the First World Wilderness Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, with an interpreter.

Someone asked the interpreter what language Ott was speaking.

Ott told them he was speaking South Mississippi.

“I had a great manager, Fred Foster (a songwriter, record producer and founder of Monument Records), who liked what I was doing and wanted to make me a star,” he said. “He also represented many big-name country music stars. I appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, the “Porter Wagner Show with Dolly Parton” and all of the major national talk shows like the “Today Show.” But I didn’t want to be a star. I was happy doing what I was doing. I was a Mississippi boy, and my roots run deep in this Mississippi soil.”

Paul Ott’s father’s family worked in agriculture in Hollandale. When his father, Paul Holland, died when he was just a baby, his mother moved the family back to her home in Pike County, where Ott would help his grandfather on a small farm that had cows, chickens, hogs and cotton.

“My grandbabies, of which I have 13, still think groceries grow in the grocery store,” he said. “I’ve been trying to teach them, by having a small farm and putting a few things out there on my farm, where their food really comes from. But I don’t know if it has caught on for them yet.

“We have some great farm families in our state, and I truly believe that farmers make the world go round,” he said. “If it wasn’t for farmers, we couldn’t keep our country going. We must never get to the point where we depend on other countries for our food.”

Ott appreciates Farm Bureau’s work on behalf of farmers and all Mississippians. He was instrumental in helping Farm Bureau with the eminent domain campaign.

“Paul Ott did more than any other person in the state, especially in South Mississippi, to educate people about eminent domain reform and help us get signatures on our petitions. He worked tirelessly,” said Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Randy Knight.

“That was very personal to me since I own land and know what it is worth,” Ott said. “I don’t want someone taking my farm for less than its value for private development purposes. I just didn’t think it was right.

“It was a great thing to work with Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, who took the lead on this issue,” he said. “Through our show, we reached a lot of people every week, but a lot of other people worked hard on this, too.”

Paul Ott says he has received a few awards around the country for his work through the years, but he doesn’t think anything means more to him than the Ag Ambassador Award.

“I am deeply humbled,” he said. “I’m just so thankful that the things we promoted in agriculture have made a little bit of an impact. I’m especially happy to have worked alongside Farm Bureau. It’s a great organization.

“Farm Bureau is just like my family.”

“Listen to the Eagle,” Paul Ott’s live call-in radio show, can be heard on ESPN, 105 FM, every Monday night, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on 15 stations across the state. The program also airs on television every Sunday morning on these Mississippi stations: WABG in Greenville; WJTV in Jackson; WTOK in Meridian; WHLT in Hattiesburg; WLOX on the Coast; and WCVI in Columbus, as well as stations in Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas.

 

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The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is the state's largest general farm organization with more than 197,000 member-families statewide.  There are Farm Bureaus in all 82 counties in Mississippi where agriculture comprises a fundamental part of Mississippi 's economy.  Headquartered in Jackson , the federation is an independent, non-profit agricultural organization and is not associated with any arm of the government.  For more information about Farm Bureau, visit our website at www.msfb.org.

© 2007 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation