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Strain hears concerns of Tensas and Caldwell Parish farmers

October 31, 2008

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., State Senator Neil Riser and State Representatives John F. “Andy” Anders and Charles R. “Bubba” Chaney met with farmers at two separate meetings Thursday, October 30 in Tensas and Caldwell parishes.
Farmers voiced their concerns over crop losses cause by Tropical Storm Faye and hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Tensas Parish Police Jury President Emmet Adams, Jr. told Strain and the 35 farmers and agribusiness professionals gathered at the St. Joseph Community Center that agriculture was the driving force in their area.
“As the farmers go, the parish goes,” Adams said.
Barbra Bagley, an 87-year-old cotton farmer, told Strain that 2008 is the worst year for farmers in Tensas Parish since 1948.
“The drought, the rain, then the hurricanes, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” Bagley said. “It hit everybody. There are five cotton gins in this parish and they’re all suffering.”
Strain said the rainfall from the three weather events caused widespread flooding in fields which underlined the need for improving drainage infrastructure.
“We haven’t done a good job of maintaining the drainage system for the last 30 years,” Strain said. “We’ve got to spend some money to fix this.”
Strain explained that the 2008 Farm Bill was signed late and rules in the bill for claiming disaster aid have yet to be written.
“The current farm bill won’t give any disaster assistance for lost crops to farmers for a year,” Strain said. “We’re trying to get money in the farmers’ hands right now.”
Strain said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma blocked Senator Mary Landrieu’s effort in the United States Senate to create a $1.12 billion farm aid measure for all American farmers hurt by the natural disasters of 2008, including flood, drought, wildfire and hurricane.
Though Oklahoma has eight counties that would have qualified for the disaster aid, Coburn would not allow the measure to pass, Strain said.
“Senator Coburn is a doctor and his nickname is Dr. No,” Strain said.
Anders said Strain’s lobbying effort in Washington, D.C. in the weeks immediately following hurricanes Gustav and Ike was intense.
“Commissioner Strain is as close to a pit bull as a lobbyist can be,” Anders said. “The general public and the Washington officials don’t know how bad the farmers’ losses are and it takes a lot of lobbying to get a favorable vote for agriculture.”
Farmer Barton McIntosh of Ferriday said he was not pleased with the Washington response to Louisiana farmers’ plea for help post-hurricane.
“The attitude from Washington is rotten,” McIntosh said. “The price of commodities has doubled but our inputs have tripled. I hear the president talk about rich farmers. They talk about rich farmers getting $8 a bushel for corn. Well right now it’s $4 a bushel.”
Riser said crop losses may impede the repayment of farm loans and agricultural producers will have trouble getting new loans.
“Crop loans are coming up soon,” Riser said. “If we don’t get help from the federal level soon we’ll be in crisis.”
Riser spoke at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Tree Nursery in Columbia. About 15 agribusiness professionals attended that meeting.
Strain said though he asked Congress for $700 million for state agricultural producers, only $6.5 billion in community development block grants was appropriated to all the states affected by the 2008 natural disasters.
Of that $6.5 billion, Strain told the farmers he thought $1.2 billion would go to Louisiana. Strain said he requested $200 million of Louisiana’s share be used to repair agricultural infrastructure and businesses.
Strain said the aid would probably be administered through the Louisiana Agriculture Finance Authority.
Strain was hopeful Congress would get disaster relief to farmers either in a lame duck Congressional session after the November 4 election or in January when the new Congress convenes.
“Senator Coburn was able to block us on that particular day,” Strain said. “But we have strong support in the Senate.”
Chaney said it was the Louisiana delegation that led the fight for disaster relief for the Midwestern and Texan farmers affected by drought, flood and hurricanes.
“We had good data and it was all Louisiana up there in Washington the weeks after the storm,” Chaney said. “The good news is that they’re listening to us.”