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.

Young Farmer and Rancher Group Meets With Entire La. Congressional Delegation

Trade promotion authority, the farm bill, and the H2b guest worker program topped the list of issues that a Louisiana Young Farmer’s and Rancher’s group discussed with Louisiana’s Congressional delegation during their annual visit to Capitol Hill in March this year.

The YF&R group armed themselves with information at the American Farm Bureau headquarters in Washington, D.C. AFBF’s Executive Director of Public Policy Dale Moore told the seven YF&R visitors the federal budget will likely control much of their legislative agenda during this visit. Kassie Berard, a St. Martin parish sugar grower, said making in-person visits to Capitol Hill can make tremendous impacts back home.

“The misconception was that they would never listen and they make their own decisions and that’s just not the case anymore,” Berard said. “I had to be educated on exactly that they do want to listen to the issues and the things that we have to say because we are educating them about issues back home that we are having.”

The group also focused on issues during visits with Louisiana’s two freshman representatives: Ralph Abraham, (R-5th District) and Garrett Graves (R-6th). Abraham, who sits on the House Ag Committee, explains that farmers in the fifth district tell him that the EPA is a thorn in their side.

“We are having to fight tooth-and-nail to not allow them to make a pond a puddle, a ditch something they want to control,” Abraham said. “The Fifth District I represent is the largest row-crop district in the nation, so I have got to be very vigilant for our farmers and I’ve got to be very good for them.”

Similarly, Rep. Graves intends to educate other members of congress in an attempt to protect the interests of farmers and families who grow several unique crops.

“We have to reach out to other members of congress and explain to them the importance of these industries and help to open up other opportunities for those farmers to sell their crops not only in the United States but around the world,” Graves said.

Grain Marketer Christy Ingram sells crops around the world. Ingram hopes to convince 4th District Congressman John Fleming to expand markets for Louisiana rice and other grains to overseas markets such as Cuba.

“There is grain that can be bought and I have to have a market to sell it to,” Ingram said. “The markets currently are limited as far as truck, rail, and barge and if we were able to have more opportunity to sell that crop we could better opportunities for the growers.”

Creating new opportunities for growers prefaced the meeting with freshmen Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) who defeated long-time Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Grain producer Josh Moore said he sought relief from an expansion of defined water bodies included in the Clean Water Act.

“‘Navigable waters’” is kind of a loose definition and the EPA is trying to control all water sources,” Moore said. “We have breaks, ditches, ponds, and sloughs that run through our property. They are not necessarily navigable, but if the EPA has their way—who knows? They may classify them as that and what are we to do when they control our water and water structures?”

Louisiana young farmers and ranchers met with every member of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation or their staff over a two-day and half day visit to Capitol Hill.

In a meeting at Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) office in Washington, D.C., the YF&R group shared their concerns on a number of agricultural issues such as the federal guest worker programs, the estate tax, and the farm bill. Vitter, who sits on the Senate Judiciary and Banking Committees, says he will focus on Louisiana agriculture in his bid for the governor’s mansion.

“Just a few weeks ago in my governor’s campaign I had a leadership forum on the ag economy in Alexandria,” Vitter said. “I invited leaders from all around the state. About 25 were in the room for a really good discussion about how we support and expand that really important part of our economy.”

According to published reports, Vitter has raised more campaign funds than the other Republican candidates for governor. Voters will decide the governor’s race on October 24.

Michael Danna, Long-Time Ag Journalist, TV host, Dies at 54

Michael Danna, director of public relations for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and host of the organization’s long-running agricultural television program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture” died Friday, March 6, 2015, in Baton Rouge. He was 54.

Mike is survived by his loving wife Rene’e Hafford Danna of Port Allen; two children, Chase Michael Danna and Taylor Lynn Danna, both of St. Francisville; his mother, Amelia Danna of Baker; one sister, Tammy Danna of Zachary; his “Nannie,” aunt Rose Marie Danna of Baker and two step sons, Nicholas LaCour of Port Allen and Dillon Couvillon of Astoria, NY. He is preceded in death by his father, Nicky Danna of Baker and his maternal and paternal grandparents, Nicholas and Lelia Soulier of Rougon and Tony and Katie Danna of Baker.

Although he never smoked, Mike was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June of 2012, followed by a leukemia diagnosis in May 2014. Danna continued to work through much of his illness, traveling to Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama in early 2014 to cover the LSU AgCenter’s AgLeadership Development Program’s international tour there. In January of 2015 Mike and the TWILA Team of reporters kicked off the TV program’s new season by broadcasting from the San Diego Zoo. San Diego was the site of the most recent annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Born May 26, 1960, Mike was raised in Baker and was a 1978 graduate of Baker High. During his college years he wrote for his hometown newspaper, “The Observer,” as well as the LSU student newspaper, “The Daily Reveille.” He also free-lanced for “The Advocate.”

In 1983 he graduated from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and was hired by Gannett as a governmental reporter and political writer for “The News-Star-World” in Monroe. In June 1985 he left the newspaper to become the editor of “The Louisiana Farm Bureau News,” the official publication of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation in Baton Rouge. 

It was there Mike was introduced to the organization’s long-running TV program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture,” or TWILA as it was known, created by Regnal Wallace. Mike would report for the show for the next 12 years, after which he was named PR director for the Farm Bureau and anchor of TWILA following Wallace’s retirement in 1997. 

During Mike’s tenure the TWILA Team of reporters would cover agricultural news from 15 countries on four continents and broadcast or report farm news stories from 27 U.S. states. TWILA is watched each week by more than 400,000 viewers on 19 affiliate stations across Louisiana. It is seen across the nation via satellite on the farm news network “RFD-TV” in Nashville.

Over his career Mike and the TWILA Team would garner six Telly Awards for excellence in television reporting. Mike was particularly proud of the October 2011 show produced over 10 days from Turkey, and of TWILA’s coverage of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Louisiana’s farmers and ranchers in 2005. In 2010 Mike’s report, “Katrina: Five Years Later,” won him a Telly Award for best news reporting by an independent television program. 

In addition to his television reporting, Mike was a contributing writer to numerous news and farm publications, including The Advocate, Mid-South Farmer and Progressive Farmer magazines. In 2001 the Baton Rouge Advertising Federation named Mike “Communications Manager of the Year.” In 2008, he was named “Marketer of the Year” by the Baton Rouge chapter of Sales and Marketing Executives International. In 2011, the Public Relations Association of Louisiana named Danna “Communicator of the Year.” Mike will be inducted into the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications Hall of Fame this fall. Mike is a 2004 graduate of the LSU AgCenter’s “Agricultural Leadership Development Program.”

Mike and the entire Danna family would like to thank Dr. Gerald Miletello and the physicians and staff of the Hematology/Oncology Clinic for their love, care and compassion over the last two-and-a-half years. Thanks also to the physicians and staff of the Pennington Cancer Center. 

Family and friends will gather for a memorial service in Mike’s honor, Saturday, March 14, 2015 from 8:00 - 11:00 AM. Eulogy will begin at 11:00 AM at Baker Funeral Home, 6401 Groom Road in Baker. In lieu of flowers, the Danna family has asked that contributions be made in his name to benefit a scholarship to be established. Donations can be made online at www.lsufoundation.org or via check payable to LSU Foundation, in memory of Mike Danna in the notation line and mailed to LSU Foundation, 3838 West Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 or to Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, www.cancerservices.org

March 1-7 is Agricultural Safety Awareness Program Week, Focus on ATV Safety

As parents, we worry when our kids go out to play—it’s only natural and we try to encourage them even as we find ways for them to be safer.

What if there were a way to make them 95 percent safer, at least in one outdoor activity? ATV safety is one of the focal points of this week’s Agricultural Safety Awareness Program, running March 1-7. 

The ATV is a workhorse around the farm and for many farm kids, a recreational activity.  However, it is the cause of an average of 15 deaths per year in Louisiana alone, most of them to riders under 18.

“We’ve found that in 95 percent of the fatal accidents involving a child on an ATV, the child was riding one that was too large for them,” said Wendell Miley, safety director for the Louisiana Farm Bureau. “Whether it’s riding a parent’s ATV or just buying one that is too big, it’s one of the biggest risk factors out there. ATV manufacturers all have guidelines on matching these vehicles to the size of the rider and they should be followed.”

This year’s ASAP theme is “Ride Like a Pro Whenever You Go,” focusing on helmet use while riding ATV’s.  Miley said helmets decrease the risk of fatality in ATV accidents by 50 percent and the chance of a head injury by 80 percent. 

“Helmets can cost as little as $50, which is cheap compared to the cost of an ATV and even more inexpensive when you are looking at medical bills or the cost of a human life,” he said. “The one thing to look for is to make sure it is DOT-approved. Some helmets have additional approval ratings, but always make sure it has the DOT sticker.”

In addition, 60 percent of ATV-related child deaths occur on a road, something that is prohibited by law.

“They’re off-road vehicles by design,” Miley said. “They sit low and they have very little protection against cars or bigger vehicles. If you have an ATV, it’s a good idea to have a designated area on the farm for kids to ride.”

Miley has been tracking ATV-related accidents for more than a decade and he said multiple riders greatly increase the risk of both fatalities and accidents in general.

“The large seat on an ATV is designed for a single rider to shift his weight on uneven terrain, not for passengers,” Miley said. “We had an incident in Louisiana with and ATV accident involving five people. I know it’s a convenient and fun way to ride, but it’s just too dangerous as it was never designed for more than one person.”

To find out more, you can visit the National Ag Safety Database at http://nasdonline.org to check on ATV safety including inspection, sizes and helmets. 

Farmers Donate More Than 46 Million Meals Through “Harvest For All” Program

The farm and ranch families of Farm Bureau raised more than $1.2 million and donated a record of nearly 42 million pounds of food to assist hungry Americans as part of Farm Bureau’s “Harvest for All” program in partnership with Feeding America. Combined, the monetary and food donations also reached a record level of the equivalent of more than 46 million meals.

Now in its 13th year, Harvest for All is spearheaded by members of Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program, but Farm Bureau members of all ages from across the nation contribute to the effort. In all, 23 state Farm Bureaus and the American Farm Bureau Federation heeded the call to action. The joint effort between Farm Bureau and Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, is a national community action program through which farmers and ranchers can help ensure every American enjoys the bounty of food they produce.

In addition to raising food and funds for the initiative, farmers and ranchers tallied nearly 14,000 volunteer friend hours assisting local hunger groups in 2014.

“By working together and sharing our bounty, we’re able to help nourish those who need help the most,” said Jon Hegeman, a greenhouse grower from Alabama who chairs the AFBF YF&R committee. “No one in America should have to go without food. Through the coordinated efforts of America’s farmers and ranchers and Harvest for All, the equivalent of 46 million meals made it to the tables of those who needed it the during the past year.”

Harvest for All is one of the most important community service efforts undertaken by Farm Bureau members. Although the U.S. economy is stronger overall compared to a few years ago, many Americans still need the help provided by Feeding America and its national network of local food assistance organizations, according to Hegeman.

“The American Farm Bureau and its Young Farmers & Ranchers have consistently contributed to Harvest for All throughout our 13-year partnership, providing much-needed assistance for the one in six Americans who are struggling with hunger,” said James Borys, regional produce manager at Feeding America.

Since Harvest for All was launched, Farm Bureau families have gathered more than 147 million pounds of food, logged more than 97,000 volunteer hours and raised more than $4.8 million in donations. Combined, the food and money donations are the equivalent of more than 166 million meals.

Labor Dispute Holds Up Products, Hurts Producers and Consumers

A dockside dispute is turning into a food fight that hurts us all.

U.S.-grown apples and pears rot on the docks never again to see the light of day. Bins normally piled high with U.S. produce at markets across Asia are looking scant. Storage facilities across the country are packed with tons of meat that should be on dinner plates around the world.

Loading docks from Seattle to San Diego—once bustling with activity—are now moving with all the speed of a DMV line thanks to prolonged contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union.

The dock workers’ contract expired in July, and although workers continue to show up, not much is getting done. Last weekend the ports were brought to a halt as shippers and port operators suspended operations for two days. The financial losses are stacking up along with the unmoved cargo. From $40 million per week in meat sales to $70 million in wasted fruit in Washington, these numbers are a mere fraction of sales and long-term market share losses that farms, ranches, lumber yards and factories are suffering.

While the two parties slog out salary and benefit terms, American businesses are paying the price as they lose skilled workers, valuable sales and good standing with our largest overseas customers. Fresh produce and meat exports to Asia are largely on hold until the docks are running at a normal pace again. Pork producers are among those being hit especially hard with no way to reach six of their top 10 world customers, all Asia/Pacific countries. While our supply is landlocked, the demand has not dwindled, and our overseas customers are now left to find other, more reliable, suppliers in the meantime.

Delays, added costs and failed shipments are putting our trade relationships on shaky ground. Agreements to open up more trade in Asia will do us little good if we can’t meet our end of the bargain.

“This is turning into a disaster,” one potato exporter noted. “If we cannot supply to the Pacific Rim as we have assured over recent months, we will lose volume and confidence of these newly established customers.”

An estimated 60 percent of shippers have redirected their products to avoid the clogged ports. Although non-perishable products can be re-routed to Eastern U.S. ports through the Panama Canal, this still adds time and significantly ups the price tag. As a last resort, some retailers have taken to the skies to bypass the traffic jam. The U.S. military even resorted to air shipments to get yogurt and cottage cheese to troops in Japan and South Korea.

How did it get to this point? Last May, the PMA and ILWU began negotiating terms for a new contract. Weeks passed. The contract expired in July and work at the ports slowed. By the time holiday shipments were picking up in the fall, retailers could feel the sting. Two- to three-week delays in just getting goods off ships became standard operating procedure. In some cases, truck drivers would sit at the docks all day waiting for a shipment to be offloaded, only to be turned away empty-handed.

Meanwhile, threats of strike and full shutdown continued to loom. In January, both parties brought in a federal mediator. By month’s end a deal seemed nearly in sight. Under the new five-year contract the PMA presented, dock workers would see a 3 percent pay raise each year and full coverage for healthcare. PMA estimates the average dock worker’s salary to be $147,000 per year under the expired contract. Yet, negotiations continue.

Once a deal is finally struck and the ports return to operating at their normal speed, it’s still expected to take another eight weeks to clear the backlog. Some losses will never be recovered, but America’s farmers and ranchers are eager to get back to business and restore the trade relationships we’ve worked so hard to build.