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The new regulatory environment for Louisiana agriculture

May 1, 2012


src=/portal//Portals/0/News/photos/Strain_M_4x5.gifAgriculture is the largest sector of Louisiana’s economy.  Agriculture, forestry and aquaculture comprise more than 85 percent of the surface area of this state, 9.7 percent of our work force, and over 243,000 jobs. Valued at more than $30 billion, agriculture and forestry combined make up one of Louisiana’s largest and most economically dependent industries.  Agriculture, forestry and aquaculture have grown over 27 percent during the last two years.   

In the last several months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has become more vigilant in its inspections and enforcement of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Last month, enforcement agents from EPA Region Six visited four poultry operations and issued compliance orders due to CWA violations. The EPA is using satellite imagery and other data sources to identify operations to conduct their inspections.

As an immediate response, I issued letters advising our poultry farmers to re-visit their nutrient management plans and to make sure that they are in compliance with the best management practices and conservation measures set forth in their plans.
On April 7, the EPA met with poultry producers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) and Louisiana Farm Bureau in Many and Farmerville.  At these meetings, the EPA outlined their protocols and the various agencies present explained the programs that are available for producers.
Louisiana producers learned about EPA’s strategy to address nutrient concerns and the available programs to create best management practices for nutrient and litter management.
We reiterated that we are committed to poultry producers and the goal of helping them comply with standards.
In a subsequent meeting on April 19, the EPA informed the LDAF that in addition to poultry and egg producers, they intend to examine all forms of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) including but not limited to dairy, beef, and equine facilities.  Additionally, the EPA plans to identify other facilities that may be near the CAFO threshold and make sure they are designated as CAFOs. The EPA estimates that there are between 200 and 400 CAFO’s in Louisiana.
We also discussed spill prevention and control countermeasures (SPCC), total maximum daily loads (TMDL), nutrient management plans (NMP), resource management systems plans (RMSP), and point/non-point source discharges.
One of the most significant concerns to Louisiana agriculture is the impending threat of the development of TMDLs and nutrient criteria for the Mississippi River Basin.  In April, a lawsuit was filed by environmental groups alleging that Louisiana and other lower and upper Mississippi River states are not establishing, nor implementing nutrient criteria to reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  At this meeting, we fervently asked for an appropriate amount of time to establish background baseline data based on sound science before mandates are enforced on our watersheds.  These load reductions will affect all aspects of agriculture and forestry, as well as agribusinesses. If limits are improperly established, there will be a chilling and negative effect on both growth and profitability of many types of enterprises.
Louisiana agriculture and forestry has always been very proactive in addressing environmental concerns. Scientifically based best management practices (BMPs) have been developed and recommendations to address on-farm fuel storage are a major component of these plans. BMPS are implemented through the Louisiana Master Farmer Program and target reduction of pollutants into the air and waters of the state. Our Louisiana Master Farmer Program is firmly rooted in state law, is backed by sound science and is a critical component of Louisiana’s overall water resource management programs.
We stand ready to assist in addressing environmental concerns in Louisiana; however we believe that:
 1) Louisiana should be allowed to exercise the authority to develop its own standards and implement them through an approved and predictable process governed by existing state law.
 2) Decisions should be based on sound science.
 3) Efforts must be sensitive to economic costs to producers.
 4) Consideration must be given to the overall impact to the economic health of farm-based communities where agriculture is the economic base of these communities.
The primary responsibility of our producers is produce the highest quality, safest and sustainable food and fiber supply.  Our growers do not have dedicated environmental compliance officers that monitor EPA rules and regulations.  In the next eight years, by the year 2020, we must increase food production 25 percent to meet worldwide demands.  We must aggressively increase productivity in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner to achieve these goals in a time of increasing federal mandates.
Today is truly the Golden Age of Agriculture.  It is imperative that we work together for the future of Louisiana and of America.
Mike Strain, D.V.M.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry