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Strain: agriculture is backbone of economy

September 19, 2008

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said he takes exception on behalf of all state farmers to comments made by University of Louisiana at Monroe economist Robert Eisenstadt in a September 9 interview with KNOE television station reporter Jennifer Townley.
Eisenstadt said losses caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike were a disaster, but “when you put it into perspective of the entire state of Louisiana, it (the losses) is really rather small.”
“Dr. Eisenstadt misses the big picture,” Strain said. “While it’s true that agriculture, timber and aquaculture don’t directly employ as many people in the work force as it once did, agriculture is the backbone of our entire economy.
“Agriculture is food, fiber and fuel. You either eat it, wear it, build with it or use it to power equipment.
“Saying agriculture only accounts for one percent of Louisiana’s economy is really a misinterpretation of the facts. Louisiana agriculture brings in more than $10 billion annually into the state’s economy and employs more than ten percent of the population in half of the state’s parishes.”
“A century ago the manufacturing segment was rather small. Agriculture was king. We cultivated and harvested enough food and fiber to keep America fed. Today, manufacturing is a greater percentage of the economy but American agriculture still produces enough food to feed the country and much of the world.
“And that’s the key, isn’t it? If we can’t feed ourselves, then manufacturing, retail, pharmaceuticals, computers — everything goes by the wayside.
“I have personally visited with many farmers and their families that lost their entire crop. Will they be able to absorb the loss?
“Sometimes it’s proper to assess numbers in broad strokes, but when you stand shoulder to shoulder with a farmer in a ruined sweet potato field or flooded cotton field it becomes personal.
“I am hopeful state farmers and other agricultural producers will be able to get the help they need from Washington to survive and plant a new crop next year.
“Now is the time for compassion, not just for farmers, but for the family that left their homes to evacuate, for the elderly couple who had a tree fall on their house or the young business owner who shuttered his store because there was no power.
“I believe that if Dr. Eisenstadt saw the damage and heartache caused by Gustav and Ike up close like I’ve seen, he would be more prudent with his comments.”