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Strain meets with Iberia and St. Mary parish sugarcane farmers

October 1, 2008

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., met with a group of nearly 50 Iberia and St. Mary parish sugarcane farmers Monday, September 29 at the Ward 8 Recreational Center in Jeanerette and told them he advised USDA Secretary Ed Schafer to hold sugar imports back while damage caused to the sugarcane harvest by hurricanes Gustav and Ike is assessed fully.
“I advised him that letting more sugar come in now would hurt us worse than the hurricanes,” Strain said. “We have a unique set of circumstances. Gustav and Ike hit right at harvest but the disaster rules of the 2008 Farm Bill have not been written yet.”
Strain indicated that the Farm Bill was written more in mind for the Midwestern American corn farmer than the South Louisiana sugarcane farmer.
“The disaster measures of the Farm Bill were not designed to cover the total disaster that some of our farmers face,” Strain said.
Strain said he led an agricultural lobbying contingent before the U.S. Congress last week and asked for $700 million in aid for state farmers.
The group included LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson, economists Kurt Guidry and Mike Salassi, Kyle McCann of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, sugarcane farmer Wallace Ellender of Terrebonne Parish and Tensas Parish cotton grower Jay Hardwick.
“We’ve got to get money into the farm economy now,” Strain said. “Our goal is to get money into your hands as quickly as possible.
“If Congress can spend $700 billion to build a levee around Wall Street then it can provide a billion dollars to protect our farmers.”
Strain said Senator Mary Landrieu proposed a $1.12 billion measure to provide assistance to farmers affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Tropical Storm Fay, the Midwest floods and recent tornadoes, wildfires and droughts.
Strain said Landrieu began a Senate filibuster but withdrew it after she won the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Strain said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota authored the 2008 Farm Bill but was convinced that Louisiana farmers were not adequately covered by the measure and is now willing to consider an agricultural disaster bill.
“Senator Conrad is now a cosponsor of Senator Landrieu’s legislation,” Strain said. “But we’ve got to keep telling, reminding and pushing Congress about our farmers.”
In addition to Conrad, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas, Mark Pryor, Arkansas, Roger Wicker, Mississippi, and Thad Cochran, Mississippi have all signed on as cosponsors of Landrieu’s farm relief bill. 
Strain said Congressman Don Cazayoux of New Roads is expected to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives with Reps. Rodney Alexander and Charlie Melancon.
Strain told the farmers he advocated an affordable crop insurance program that would allow farmers to cover up to 95 percent of their crops.
Jim Simon, president of the American Sugar League, told the group to document their debris removal costs and take photos of all farm damage caused by the storms.
State Representatives Simone Champagne and Taylor Barras, both of New Iberia, and Sam Jones of Franklin hosted the meeting.