Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M. said the state’s 2010 agricultural year was positive in production numbers and economic development.
“The basis for all wealth is agriculture and most of the large, recent economic development projects that have come to Louisiana or are being planned for the state involve agriculture,” Strain said. “We have seen an enormous increase in agricultural economic development in the form of agricultural manufacturing and processing.
“The ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston Sweet Potato Processing Plant in Delhi went online in November. DG Foods, a Mississippi-based chicken processor, is opening a new plant in Morehouse Parish that will employ more than 300. The Zagis USA cotton spinning plant in Jeff Davis Parish is using Louisiana cotton and is the first major cotton project in Louisiana in decades. New rice and grain facilities in north and south Louisiana and a $30 million New Orleans cold storage facility for poultry shipments are underway.”
A drought that began in March and continues in some areas of the state caused the United States Department of Agriculture to designate 42 parishes as disaster areas,” Strain said. “Depending on farm location and levels of irrigation, crop yields were good but cost more to produce.”
Also, Strain said his legislative agenda resulted in adjustments to state law that set aside severance tax for water used to irrigate crops, forest or aquaculture for 25 years.
“Without this legislation, Louisiana farmers and foresters could have faced millions of dollars of additional input costs in the coming years,” Strain said. “We also simplified 200 years of law in respect to the prioritization of financial liens and contracts on grains.”
Strain was also successful in pushing through legislation that defines agricultural sustainability and placed the authority for the development of uniform and practical statewide animal care standards for livestock and poultry under the office of the Commissioner.
“These rules will be clear and distinct and will establish Louisiana as a state for animal agriculture,” Strain said. “We also created the Louisiana Sustainable Food Policy Council to assist in the development of markets for our local food products, and at the request of the industry, we began the labeling of Louisiana strawberries.
While 2010 has been a good year for state agricultural interests, the Louisiana Agriculture Finance Authority (LAFA) is still processing federal aid money for producers that were affected by the 2008 storms and the wet weather of 2009.
“LAFA is busy administering $92 million of federal funds to assist our farmers, ranchers and fishers and agribusinesses,” Strain said. “The Farm and Agribusiness Recovery Grant and Loan Program was the first and only one of its kind in the United States and is helping our state producers recover and rebuild.”
Strain said that LAFA has reduced its bonded indebtedness by more than $28.5 million (31.24 percent) during the last three years.
The LDAF also awarded more than $310,000 of USDA grant funds for research, education and promotion to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Louisiana in 2010 and disbursed $380,000 worth of food coupons to 16,000 senior citizens participating in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
The coupons are redeemed at approved farmers markets and roadside stands for fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey, Strain said.
LDAF was affected by a budget cut that removed more than $8.4 million to its funding.
“During the past three years, we reduced our budget by more than $24.7 million (22.9 percent),” Strain said. “Since 2008, we streamlined and downsized the department by more than 300 employees (30 percent), eliminated 383 vehicles (37 percent of the fleet) and decreased the aviation fleet by seven aircraft (31.5 percent).”
Other highlights of the 2010 LDAF agricultural year:
• The boll weevil has been functionally eradicated from the cotton fields of Louisiana. The Boll Weevil Eradication Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, LDAF personnel, cotton farmers, agricultural consultants, pesticide applicators and state, local and federal partners are to be commended.
• The LDAF is working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Louisiana Economic Development and other groups to promote and assure the quality and safety of Louisiana seafood in response to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
• Louisiana experienced a record number of wildland fires during a drought that was most severe from August through October. In that period, 936 fires burned nearly 10,000 acres of wildland.
• The LDAF received a favorable decision in ongoing litigation to establish the authority of the LDAF to rule on the closing of rural railroad crossings. The Federal Court for the Middle District of Louisiana remanded the case back to the 19th Judicial District Court, thus reaffirming our position that this is an issue under state jurisdiction.
• The LDAF helped secure a $500,000 grant to establish the National Food Animal Veterinary Institute Pilot Program to address the national shortage of large-animal veterinarians and technicians. Strain worked closely with Missouri Secretary of Agriculture Jon Hagler and USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development, Cheryl Cook to establish the program.
• The LDAF continues to represent state agricultural interests as they pertain to the 2012 Farm Bill, Cap and Trade, Estate Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Food Safety Modernization Act, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, immigration reform, Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act and as well as other related issues.
• Strain accepted positions as vice-chair of the Southern United Trade Association, treasurer of the Southern Association of the State Departments of Agriculture and treasurer of the National Interstate Pest Control Compact.