President's Column

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farmers, ranchers and rural residents. We are a private, non-profit, non-governmental agency established in 1922 to bring a voice to agricultural issues. Our weekly President's Column, started in 1975, today appears in more than 160 newspapers across Louisiana. The column provides information about farming, food prices, environmental issues and other consumer news, while addressing matters important to all of rural Louisiana.

A TRIP On Louisiana’s Rural Roads: Study Cites Need for Vast Improvements

Far from the idyllic country roads featured in folk songs, the nation’s rural transportation system needs vast improvements, according to a report recently released by TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research group.

The report looked at the condition, use and safety of the nation’s rural roads, highways and bridges. With significant deficiencies, a lack of safety features and fatal traffic crash rates significantly higher than all other roads and highways, travel on rural roads and bridges is bumpy, to say the least.

Like limited broadband access and minimal proximity to medical specialists, transportation infrastructure shortcomings in rural areas are often overshadowed by the problems on suburban and urban roads, despite rural Americans relying more on quality of their transportation system than their urban counterparts as the TRIP report notes.

Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, lives in rural East Feliciana Parish. He said the need for infrastructure improvements is every bit as important where he lives as in nearby urban Baton Rouge.

“I drive into Baton Rouge pretty much weekly and of course, city roads need constant fixing from the heavy traffic,” Anderson said. “However, the need for our rural roads is just as great. Across the state, these roads see a lot of use from trucks and farm equipment that puts wear and tear on them like everywhere else. A lot of the food, fiber and other raw materials we need come from rural areas and in order to keep them flowing to the cities, we have to both repair and upgrade these roads.”

Specifically, TRIP found that in 2013, 15 percent of the nation’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition and another 39 percent were rated in mediocre or fair condition. In 2014, 11 percent of the nation’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient and 10 percent were functionally obsolete.

TRIP made a number of recommendations to improve the safety and condition of rural roads. These include: modernizing major two-lane roads and highways to accommodate increased travel and implementing cost-effective safety improvements, including rumble strips, passing lanes and better lighting.

Also critical is securing appropriate resources at the local, state and federal levels to provide a rural transportation system that will keep goods moving, improve quality of life and quicken the pace of economic growth.

Related to funding, Congress in May approved a two-month extension of federal transportation spending. President Barack Obama signed the bill, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, putting in place an extension of federal surface transportation programs through the end of July.

On June 24, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a six-year, $278 billion highway measure, but with Republicans and Democrats sharply divided on how to pay for it, passage of a long-term measure like this one appears to be quite a ways down the road.

USDA Declares 35 Louisiana Parishes Disaster Areas from Early-Summer Weather

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared 35 parishes in Louisiana as disaster areas due to the torrential rain events of late May and June, as well as the subsequent flooding. 

USDA designated 12 parishes as primary natural disaster areas due to production losses caused by the combined effects of rain, flooding, high winds, and hail that occurred from April 27 through June 26, 2015. Those parishes are Avoyelles, Bossier, Caddo, East Feliciana, Franklin, Grant, Iberville, Natchitoches, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, Red River and West Baton Rouge.

In addition, 23 other parishes these additional areas are named as contiguous disaster parishes. Those parishes are Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Bienville, Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, Evangeline, Iberia, La Salle, Madison, Richland, Sabine, St. Helena, St. Landry, St. Martin, Tensas, Vernon, Webster, West Feliciana and Winn.

Mike Strain, Louisiana commissioner of agriculture and forestry, said the declaration was the first step in helping farmers in this state get relief from what was a total loss for many farmers.

“The recent flooding did a number on our agricultural community,” Strain said. “Unpredictable weather is something that the farming community deals with on a regular basis. This assistance is necessary to help sustain the businesses of our agricultural producers.”

Strain recently travelled to Washington to push for more assistance in the form of supplemental disaster assistance, something normally called for during tropical weather devastation, such as with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 10 years ago.

“You know, as the Red recedes and we get a better understanding of the total losses and cost, we’re going to be asking Congress for funding,” Strain said. “It’s so that we can have some type of emergency appropriations so we can help stand the farmers back up with their crops.”

Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, agreed with Strain and added that the assistance would be needed sooner rather than later.

“A lot of farmers had to replant many crops and some of that replanted acreage will result in lower yields because of how late they went into the ground,” Anderson said. “Some folks didn’t get to replant at all and some pasture land is still drying out, which will cut into this year’s overall hay production.

“I’m hoping we can get an assistance package passed this year,” he added. “In my experience after hurricanes, it can be two years or more before farmers see a dime of that assistance.  While that’s helpful for their bottom lines, our farmers affected by flooding need help sooner rather than later.”

A disaster designation makes farm operators in primary areas and those areas contiguous to primary areas eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. This assistance includes FSA emergency loans.

Farmers in eligible parishes have eight months from the date of a disaster declaration to apply for low interest emergency loans. FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm, and the security and repayment ability of the operator.

Farmers and ranchers who have suffered severe losses may apply for emergency assistance with their local FSA Office.

Emergency loans help producers recover from production and physical losses following a drought, flooding and other natural disasters or quarantine. As a general rule, a farmer must have suffered at least a 30 percent loss of production to be eligible for a FSA emergency loan. By contrast, supplemental disaster assistance from Congress is in the form of grants, which eases the financial loss of disasters that can put farmers out of business entirely.

Additional programs may be available to assist farmers and ranchers in this area and they are encouraged to contact their local FSA Office or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

Feral Hogs Do $30 Million to La. Farms, Could Soon Be In Suburban Backyards

The feral hog problem in Louisiana is not just a rural one anymore, as some experts believe that with the hog population growth unchecked, it’s only a matter of time before they wind up in a suburban backyard. 

In the meantime, feral pigs are doing catastrophic damage to rural areas and farms.  A recent survey by the LSU AgCenter shows hogs did $30 million in damage in 2013 to Louisiana row crops. Shaun Tanger, an assistant professor at the LSU AgCenter who conducted the research, said that number will only go up.

“I’m still making sure that we’re exactly accurate, but we’re looking at $30 million as the benchmark,” Tanger said. “It’s probably going to be closer to $35 million to $40 million once everything is tabulated.”

Tanger said the question is not whether or not feral hogs will move into populated areas, but when. Further, even with hunting and trapping hogs, it may be too late to eradicate them, only control them.

“I don’t know that there’s a population threshold where you can definitely say they’ll be in populated areas, but certainly the more the numbers grow, the more that probability increases,” Tanger said. “It’s sad that we’ll likely only get much attention when someone is injured by these hogs, but they are dangerous and a threat to people, especially if they’re confronted.”

Tanger specializes in forestry and says hogs are becoming a problem in that industry, as well.

“Out of the 45 responses I got for forestry, 10 of them said that there was damaged related to feral hog activity,” he said. “If I have to assume that that’s all seedlings, then you could certainly see the $100,000 mark, just for the sample. If you extrapolate, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re looking at $1 million or $2 million.”

As that number grows with further research, Tanger is certain that the amount of damage these hogs do every year will also increase.

 “Based off of what we’re seeing, that number, given that their population is between 500,000 and one million in the state,” Tanger said. “They can have two litters per year and there can be six piglets in each of those litters. If you’re not harvesting quite a few of them, then this numbers are going to stay status quo and most likely increase 5-10% over just the next year or two.”

It’s those kinds of facts derived from Tanger’s survey that drive home the need for further research into controlling the feral hog population and cooperation between the public and private sectors to protect farmers’ investments.

“That’s really what the survey was done for, because we have so much anecdotal evidence that they’re indeed causing financial problems,” he said. “It really is something that needs to be handled, to some degree, with regulations and things like that and what measures are we going to employ, or be able to employ, that’s going to have to come from leadership, absolutely.” 

Tanger plans to hold extension meetings across the state to help farmers and ranchers better deal with feral hogs.

Young Couple, Bright Future: Richland Couple Named Louisiana’s Outstanding Young Farmers

Ashley and Dustin Morris understand how crucial farming is to their parish, their state and their country.

They also know it’s not enough for today’s farming family to work hard and bring in a crop. The modern farmer has to be a leader and a spokesman for agriculture. That’s why the couple agreed to apply for Farm Bureau’s 2015 Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award, given annually to the most outstanding young farm couple in the state. Because Ashley and Dustin Morris are such great representatives of Louisiana’s farming community, they were selected as the state’s best young farmers.

“It was a huge honor to win this,” Dustin said. “There are a lot of great young farmers in this state and to be considered one of the better ones is a huge honor.”

The Morris family was one of 14 entries in the annual contest and one of three finalists who were recognized at the awards presentation during the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd Annual Meeting at the New Orleans Marriott.

The top prize was a $40,000 credit towards the Chevrolet or GMC vehicle of their choice, compliments of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, $1,500 worth of equipment rental from H&E Equipment Services and a $500 Visa gift card, courtesy of Conquest Completion Services. The couple also won an all-expense paid trip to Orlando, Florida to compete for the national title at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention, Jan. 10-13, 2016.

The application process is detailed, said Carey Martin, LFBF public relations director. Every parish Farm Bureau office may have one entry into the state-wide competition but the contest is designed to let the cream rise to the top.

“We’d love to have a nominee from every parish for consideration,” Martin said. “The purpose of the competition is to identify, recognize and encourage young people in agriculture. The written application is not just a form they fill out with their name, addresses and phone number. It’s an in-depth process that requires good presentation, articulate expression of ideas and quantitative agricultural analysis of their farming operations. Of course, we think the prize of a brand new truck is plenty of incentive for anyone to consider the competition.”

Dustin, 32, earned a degree in agricultural engineering from Mississippi State University. Ashley is a stay-at-home mother providing care for their three children, Addison, 7, Kimber, 5, and Audrey, 2. When the time is right, Ashley may return to the law profession.

Raising three children in any profession is trying but the Morris’s have the division of labor adjusted to their particular needs.

“Being married to a farmer is demanding,” Ashley said. “He works long hours most of the time so that puts pressure on me to be the parent at home. With the way the weather and the markets go, it’s important for me to be supportive. What I bring to the farm is that love and support. Whatever he needs, I can do.”

Dustin, a fourth generation farmer, knew at an early age exactly what he wanted to do: he wanted to farm.

“I’ve known since I was a small child that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “My grandfather owned a gin and I just loved to go with him and ride on the cotton picker, ride in the truck pulling the cotton picker, going to the gin, being with my dad when we were all one big farm together. That was just a passion to go and see everything that was going on. Something I’ve always loved to do was raise a crop.

“I had my first crop when I was 18. I did the work when I was in school. I was very small, a couple hundred acres. I was there in the summer, which is the majority of raising a crop. I was home every weekend while we were planting and springing pipe. I’d be there through the peak irrigation season in the summer. I didn’t have much while I was in college; just enough to keep me going.

“Just enough to keep me going” has turned into a 2,500 acre corn and soybean operation complete with all the joy and adversity that farmers have come to expect.

“Tractors go down, it’s hot,” Dustin said. “Adverse conditions pop up; the weather, too much rain; things that every farmer faces. You can get overwhelmed because you feel like the world is crashing in on you and you forget that the world is still moving.

“But farmers adapt well. We have to. There’s no ‘off’ button. You don’t get to quit. You just get up and do it again and you fight until you overcome it.”

After 12 years of marriage, Ashley has become skilled at recognizing when Dustin is “having one of those days.”

“I’ll know by the tone of his voice,” she said. “I hardly ever call him at work because I know he’s busy. If he has time, he’ll call. When he hasn’t called all day, he’ll just text and say he’ll be home at 9. I’ll have dinner ready and we’ll talk surface talk. We’ll talk about TV shows, the kids, something easy. We won’t discuss work when it’s one of those days.”

Nothing would please the Morris’s more than for their children to find their way in agriculture.

“I think they could advance agriculture in any profession they choose,” Ashley said. “As an attorney, I’m able to do that, but just by taking them to the farm when he’s planting and they get a chance to see that. They get excited to see the growth.

“We’re introducing it to them and giving them the knowledge to tell their friends who may not know anything about farming. Showing them that is a great way to cultivate them. Farming will always been in their spirit and will bring them back home when they think about it.”

Dustin said at five years old, his son Kimber is a little too young now to understand things like harvest time.

“Every day he asks me, ‘Daddy, when can we ride in the combine again?” Dustin said with a laugh. “I hear it every day, but he doesn’t understand that the corn is not ready and it’s not going to be ready for a little while. He wants to ride the combine every day.”

Dustin understands completely.

“I’m 32 and every day since I was 14 I’ve been asking the same thing,” he said. “When are we going to ride the combine?”

The Morris’s have set their course and are determined to farm into a ripe old age. There’s no crystal ball but they think things will be good.

“I personally think the future is bright for farming in the long run,” Dustin said. “We all hear the same thing: world population means more people. We’re not getting more land, so we’ve got to be more productive on the acres that we have with the technology that we have."

“Today, things are progressing very rapidly,” he added. “We’ve seen things happen fast. I have a positive outlook for farming in the future. We have a lot of hurdles to overcome too with regulations and urban sprawl. There’s good and bad associated with urban sprawl. We have to learn to get along with the general public and convince them what we’re doing is a good thing and providing them with a safe food supply.”

Anderson Begins 27th Term as La. Farm Bureau President

NEW ORLEANS –– Ronnie Anderson, a beef cattle producer and forage grower from Ethel, La., has been re-elected president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Anderson, 67, begins his 27th term as president of the state’s largest general farm organization. His re-election took place Sunday, June 28 during the Farm Bureau’s 93rd annual meeting.

“The big talk at the convention this year was all the rain and the low commodity prices,” Anderson said. “Our cotton and rice farmers in the state are really on the ropes right now and it’s more important than ever to participate in Farm Bureau to help us fight for agriculture’s future.”

Nearly 2,000 farmers from across the state gathered in the Crescent City for the largest statewide ag meeting, which saw a gubernatorial forum with each of the four announced candidates.

“Our farmers got a chance to hear from each candidate what their position on agriculture is,” Anderson said. “The fact that they got to hear them and that they took time out of their schedules to be with us is a major win for ag in and of itself.

Linda Zaunbrecher, who had served as third vice-president for more than 25 years and on the board as a whole for 32 years, stepped down at the convention. Zaunbrecher was honored numerous times over the convention. Her husband and rice farmer, Wayne, passed away just two weeks earlier after a brief illness and was honored at a memorial service Sunday morning.

“It’s just not going to be the same without Linda and Wayne around,” Anderson said. “Linda was a pioneer. She was constantly there to provide a voice not only for rice farmers, but for all of Louisiana agriculture, including the farm women who are our partners and friends. I know Linda will stay active as a voice for Farm Bureau, but we will miss her on the board.”

Richard Fontenot, a rice and grain farmer from Evangeline Parish, was elected as third vice-president. The Farm Bureau board of directors is made up of a five-member executive committee and an 11-member board of directors. The Farm Bureau also re-elected three current members of its executive committee. Each member is a production farmer, actively engaged in agriculture.

Those re-elected Sunday to the Farm Bureau’s executive committee were Jim Harper, first vice president, Scott Wiggers, second vice president and Mike Melancon, as secretary-treasurer. 

Members of the Farm Bureau’s 11-member board of directors serve in two-year terms. Odd-numbered districts are elected in odd-numbered years. Marty Wooldridge, of Caddo Parish, will represent farmers in District 1 in the northwest portion of the state. Serving farmers in District 2 will be Butch Oaks, a poultry producer from Ouachita Parish. District 3 will be represented by grain producer Robert Warren from Madison Parish.

Bill Cheek, from Natchitoches Parish, will represent farmers in District 4, in Central Louisiana. Serving District 5, in south central Louisiana, will be Russell Bailes from Vernon Parish, who replaces Richard Fontenot, of Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish. In District 6, farmers will be represented by Kenny Self, a sugar producer from Pointe Coupee Parish. James Cox from Cameron Parish, will represent farmers in District 7, in southwest Louisiana.

Errol Domingues, president of the Vermilion Parish Farm Bureau, will represent District 8. District 9 will be represented by Fred Bass from St. Tammany Parish. District 10 will be represented by Greg Gravois of St. James Parish, while District 11 will be represented by Ralph Babin from Lafourche Parish Parish.

Amelia Kent, a beef cattle producer from Tangipahoa Parish, was elected chair of the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Denise Cannatella, a grain producer from Melville, in St. Landry Parish, was re-elected chairman of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. The YF&R chairman and the Women’s Committee chair serve as ex-officio members of the Farm Bureau board of directors.

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation wrapped up its convention June 28. The Farm Bureau is a non-profit, private volunteer membership organization of Louisiana farmers and ranchers.