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Strain says budget cuts will hurt Louisiana agriculture and forestry

March 27, 2009

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., met with Iberia Parish area farmers and members of the Acadiana legislative delegation to urge them to preserve critical funding for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the LSU AgCenter.  
The farmers’ meeting was held at the Iberia Parish Ward 8 Center in Jeanerette on Wednesday, March 25.
LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson and state Representative Harold Ritchie of Bogalusa, chairman of the 77-member legislative Rural Caucus also addressed the farmers. In addition, state Senator Troy Hebert of Jeanerette, Acadiana Delegation leader Rep. Jonathan Perry of Kaplan and Reps. Simone Champagne of Jeanerette and Taylor Barras of New Iberia spoke at the meeting.
Strain told the producers and legislators the LDAF budget was cut nearly $8 million so far this year and forced to eliminate 25 employees.
In addition to the job eliminations, Strain said the LDAF suspended the nuisance animal trapping programs, consolidated the critical wildfire firefighting aircraft fleet and pilots and closed several laboratories.
Strain said the LDAF is facing a possible $15 million cut to the 2009-2010 budget.
“Agriculture is the state’s largest industry,” Strain said. “It’s worth $30 billion to our economy.
“Our farmers have to produce more with less every year and you’re fighting every day to stay in business. You need every bit of help the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the LSU AgCenter can provide.
“The LDAF can’t absorb that kind of a reduction in operation funds. A cut like that will result in the elimination of more than 230 jobs, including 75 firefighters and more than 20 inspectors for seed, fertilizer and pesticides.”
Strain also spoke in support of the LSU AgCenter.
“How many of you can farm without the science the AgCenter provides?” Strain said. “The AgCenter develops new varieties of crops to plant and that takes years of development. It’s critical to keep them funded. All the hurdles farmers face—the EPA, the use of chemicals, herbicides, fungicides—you need to know if new farming trends are going to work. Where does that knowledge come from? The LSU AgCenter.
“$13 million is a twenty percent cut and that will devastate the AgCenter,” Strain said.
Ritchie said he was from Washington Parish, an area where the primary agricultural product is dairy or forestry related, but the issues were the same.
“You can’t drive from Monroe down to Jeanerette without seeing an area that’s touched by the Department of Ag and Forestry and the LSU AgCenter,” Ritchie said. “I think it’s just unacceptable that we have these folks taking these cuts and we need to get behind them.” 
Representative Simone Champagne of Jeanerette said the Rural Caucus and the Acadian Delegation make up more than 75 percent of the legislative membership.
Strain acknowledged the strength of the voting block.
“When the Caucus stands together not a single bill can pass without them,” Strain said.
Strain also said he supported using $58 million of the state surplus money to pay off LDAF debt incurred by previous administrations. The debt reduction would free up $14 million, which could be redirected for critical ag and forestry services, Strain said.