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.

The Voice of Agriculture

For use in local newspapers, week of April 21, 2014:

The creator of the Farm Bureau’s weekly television program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture” Regnal Wallace officially retired last week from radio station KMAR in Winnsboro, where he was the farm broadcaster for the last 16 years. 

I say officially retired because Friday, April 11, 2014 marked the second time Reg Wallace retired.  His first retirement as public relations director for the Louisiana Farm Bureau and former host of our TV program was March 31, 1997. After moving from Baton Rouge back to his hometown of Crowville just weeks after his departure, Reg stayed retired all of about six months. He was sought out by Tom Gay Jr., the owner of KMAR radio and persuaded to go back on the air with a daily farm program. That program, ‘Round Franklin, would be heard across Northeast Louisiana for the next 16 years.

Reg Wallace, who turns 80 in November, was a pioneer in the field of farm broadcasting. He came of age on the air during the time of Cronkite and Brinkley, his deep, resonating sing-song delivery bringing the news of agriculture to listeners across Louisiana, first on radio beginning in 1975 on the Farm Bureau Radio Network, then to television viewers across the state when TWILA signed on the air Sept. 24, 1981.

Wallace, who grew up on his family’s cotton farm in Franklin Parish, always understood the importance of agriculture. His father and his brother were farmers and it was the proceeds from the annual cotton crop that helped send him to Louisiana Baptist College after four years in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. His Farm Bureau career would begin in the summer of 1969.

Having grown up on the farm, Wallace knew that sometimes farmers and ranchers were underappreciated in their tasks of feeding us day in, day out. His desire to create a television program that would, in his words, “tell the farmers’ story,” would go on to become the longest running, locally produced television program in all of Louisiana. And it all started with a man who knew deep down that agriculture had a story to tell and that we should all be thankful for the work farmers and ranchers do on our behalf season after season, good years and bad.

At a retirement celebration at Bobby’s Restaurant in Winnsboro last week friends and family reflected on Wallace and his accomplishments as the state’s premier farm broadcaster. 

“He has a knowledge and an understanding of agriculture most of us really can’t comprehend,” said Tom Gay Jr., owner of KMAR. “As a farm broadcaster Reg was one of the best.”

Don Molino, senior farm broadcaster for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Agri-News Radio Network and long-time friend who for six years co-hosted TWILA, said he learned a lot from Wallace about the importance of farm news.

“Reg taught me a lot,” Molino said. “He was definitely a pioneer in farm broadcasting because there was a time when he was the only farm voice out there.  I’m proud to call him my friend and colleague.”

When TWILA celebrated 25 years on the air Reg was asked about how agriculture had changed since his early days with the Farm Bureau. He said there was a time when people knew milk came from cows because “their father or grandfather had one. Today we’ve lost that, but that doesn’t mean agriculture is any less important.”

The agricultural airwaves of Northeast Louisiana are silent now as the man known as “the voice of Louisiana agriculture” took his final bow last week. I, for one, will never forget the contributions Regnal Wallace made to the farmers and ranchers he served for the better part of four decades. It was his commitment to their tireless work that helped all of us connect with, and hopefully better understand, those who call themselves farmers. 

I’m certain the television program he created 32 years ago will carry on his mission to tell the farmers story; to be that singular voice which helps all of us be ever mindful that while the work of the farmer is never done, his story always deserves to be told. Thanks Reg.

The Voice of Agriculture Retires

For use in local newspapers, week of April 21, 2014:

The creator of the Farm Bureau’s weekly television program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture” Regnal Wallace officially retired last week from radio station KMAR in Winnsboro, where he was the farm broadcaster for the last 16 years. 

I say officially retired because Friday, April 11, 2014 marked the second time Reg Wallace retired.  His first retirement as public relations director for the Louisiana Farm Bureau and former host of our TV program was March 31, 1997. After moving from Baton Rouge back to his hometown of Crowville just weeks after his departure, Reg stayed retired all of about six months. He was sought out by Tom Gay Jr., the owner of KMAR radio and persuaded to go back on the air with a daily farm program. That program, ‘Round Franklin, would be heard across Northeast Louisiana for the next 16 years.

Reg Wallace, who turns 80 in November, was a pioneer in the field of farm broadcasting. He came of age on the air during the time of Cronkite and Brinkley, his deep, resonating sing-song delivery bringing the news of agriculture to listeners across Louisiana, first on radio beginning in 1975 on the Farm Bureau Radio Network, then to television viewers across the state when TWILA signed on the air Sept. 24, 1981.

Wallace, who grew up on his family’s cotton farm in Franklin Parish, always understood the importance of agriculture. His father and his brother were farmers and it was the proceeds from the annual cotton crop that helped send him to Louisiana Baptist College after four years in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. His Farm Bureau career would begin in the summer of 1969.

Having grown up on the farm, Wallace knew that sometimes farmers and ranchers were underappreciated in their tasks of feeding us day in, day out. His desire to create a television program that would, in his words, “tell the farmers’ story,” would go on to become the longest running, locally produced television program in all of Louisiana. And it all started with a man who knew deep down that agriculture had a story to tell and that we should all be thankful for the work farmers and ranchers do on our behalf season after season, good years and bad.

At a retirement celebration at Bobby’s Restaurant in Winnsboro last week friends and family reflected on Wallace and his accomplishments as the state’s premier farm broadcaster. 

“He has a knowledge and an understanding of agriculture most of us really can’t comprehend,” said Tom Gay Jr., owner of KMAR. “As a farm broadcaster Reg was one of the best.”

Don Molino, senior farm broadcaster for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Agri-News Radio Network and long-time friend who for six years co-hosted TWILA, said he learned a lot from Wallace about the importance of farm news.

“Reg taught me a lot,” Molino said. “He was definitely a pioneer in farm broadcasting because there was a time when he was the only farm voice out there.  I’m proud to call him my friend and colleague.”

When TWILA celebrated 25 years on the air Reg was asked about how agriculture had changed since his early days with the Farm Bureau. He said there was a time when people knew milk came from cows because “their father or grandfather had one. Today we’ve lost that, but that doesn’t mean agriculture is any less important.”

The agricultural airwaves of Northeast Louisiana are silent now as the man known as “the voice of Louisiana agriculture” took his final bow last week. I, for one, will never forget the contributions Regnal Wallace made to the farmers and ranchers he served for the better part of four decades. It was his commitment to their tireless work that helped all of us connect with, and hopefully better understand, those who call themselves farmers. 

I’m certain the television program he created 32 years ago will carry on his mission to tell the farmers story; to be that singular voice which helps all of us be ever mindful that while the work of the farmer is never done, his story always deserves to be told. Thanks Reg.

Tax Reform

For use in local newspapers, week of April 14, 2014:

Farmers and ranchers need tax certainty to thrive in a modern economy, and making permanent deductions that expired in 2013 is a good first step, the American Farm Bureau Federation told the House Ways and Means Committee last week.

“One of the major goals of tax reform should be to provide stable, predictable rules for businesses so that they can grow and create jobs,” American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said. “Farm Bureau believes that Congress should end its practice of extending important business tax provisions for one or two years at a time. This practice makes it very difficult for farmers and ranchers to plan and adds immense confusion and complexity.”

Stallman addressed the committee as part of a hearing addressing the economic disruption caused by the end of a series of tax deductions over the past several years. Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) recently introduced a discussion draft of the Tax Reform Act of 2014 in an effort to stimulate discussion of how the tax code could be simpler and fairer, while at the same time aiding economic growth, job creation and wages.

In written testimony submitted to the Committee, Stallman called for extensions of several now-expired deductions to benefit the economy as a whole, including:

  • Section 179 expensing, which allows small businesses to write off immediately capital investments of as much as $500,000 instead of depreciating them over several years;
  • Bonus depreciation, which is an additional 50 percent bonus depreciation for the purchase of new capital assets, including agricultural equipment;
  • Cellulosic Biofuel Producer Tax Credit: a $1.01 per gallon income tax credit for cellulosic biofuel sold for fuel plus an additional first-year, 50-percent bonus depreciation for cellulosic biofuel production facilities;
  • A $1.00 per-gallon tax credit for production of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels;
  • The Community and Distributed Wind Investment Tax Credit, which gives the option to take an investment tax credit in lieu of the Production Tax Credit and
  • A provision encouraging donations of conservations casements.

Stallman reiterated the importance of Section 179’s immediate expensing to farming. “Farming and ranching is a capital intensive business,” he said. “In order to remain profitable and be competitive, farm equipment, buildings, and storage facilities must be continually upgraded and replaced. This provision allows agricultural producers to reduce maintenance costs, take advantage of labor-saving advances, become more energy efficient and adopt technology that is environmentally friendly.

“Smart business planning that anticipates and budgets for annual capital improvements proves challenging for farmers and ranchers because they operate on tight profit margins. The immediate expensing provided by Section 179 allows farmers and ranchers to cash flow purchases that otherwise might be delayed or incur debt expense that impact profitability.”

USDA Prospective Plantings Report

For use in local newspapers, week of April 7, 2014:

Last week’s release of the USDA Prospective Plantings report wasn’t met with much market reaction, but the real movement may be out in the fields this year.

With 81.5 million acres of beans and 91.6 million acres of corn projected, the report was fairly neutral towards trader’s expectations going into the report. It is an increase in beans and drop in corn acreage as had been expected. The Quarterly Stocks report, released the same day, shows beans remaining in tight supplies while we have slightly over seven billion bushels of corn.

Market-wise, the prices almost completely support this action—soybeans remain above $14 per bushel while corn hovers around $5. I say almost because there are a couple things to consider here, not the least of which is the difference between old and new crop beans. November soy is almost $3.00 below where May contracts stand most days and we are getting ready to transition to South American supply, which means a drop-off in domestic prices.

The other thing to consider is tradition. Midwest farmers love growing corn. Corn here lately has pulled itself out of the $4.50 range to above $5, primarily on the strength of Chinese buying.  With a jump of five million more acres of soybeans this year than last, many farmers are going to wonder if they shouldn’t put a few more acres back into corn.

In addition, we’re trying to rebuild the nation’s livestock herd and that’s going to mean cattle staying on feed longer. While that seven billion bushel surplus is large, we’ve run though bigger surpluses before. Of course, no one can say what will happen for sure, but if the demand from China and our own domestic market remains strong, we’re going to see prices continue to rise and that will mean a further shift in acreage as well.

As I’m reminded each year at this time, we still have a long way to go in the season. While things have warmed up here in Louisiana, winter is still hanging around much of the corn-growing belt in the Midwest. The longer that goes on, the more farmers there will have no choice but to plant late-growing beans. 

By the way, here in Louisiana, we’re following the national trend, it seems, with about 200,000 less acres of corn and 230,000 more of beans. Cotton projected to see an increase for the first time in years, with about 50,000 more acres. 

Sugar Dumping

For use in local newspapers, Week of March 31,2014:

Almost everyone has a sweet tooth, but the amount of sugar that’s coming in from foreign countries is too rich for Louisiana’s sugarcane farmers. 

That’s why the U.S. sugar industry has asked the government to stop the practice of dumping foreign sugar on our markets, especially from Mexico. The issue is not the sale of sugar, but the fact that is supported in Mexico by government subsidies, making it impossible to compete with. 

The American Sugar Alliance and the Louisiana-based American Sugarcane League have filed petitions with the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce citing dumping margins of 40 percent or more. 

While the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “gives Mexico the right to export sugar to the United States on a tariff-free and quota-free basis—but that does not give the Mexican industry the right to export to the U.S. market at dumped prices, nor does it permit the Mexican government to subsidize its sugar industry without regard to the impact of those subsidies on U.S. producers,” the petitions read.

Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson agreed with the action, saying the price of sugar has dropped precipitously since 2011 to levels not seen since the 1980’s. 

“Just a couple of years ago we had seen prices hit 30 cents or more and while we didn’t expect them to last, we didn’t expect them to go this low either,” Anderson said. “It’s not fair for our sugarcane farmers to compete on the world market when not only is the competition subsidized, but we’ve had little in the way of a government support program for sugar.”

U.S. prices have been cut in half since late 2011 and are now trading at the same lows of the 1980s. U.S. sugar policy also incurred a taxpayer cost in 2013, after running at no cost for the past 10 years, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sought to steady a market awash in subsidized and dumped Mexican imports.

“Secretary Vilsack and his team at the USDA should be commended for their extraordinary actions on behalf of America’s sugar farmers,” said Phillip Hayes, a spokesperson for the American Sugar Alliance. “Unfortunately, the unrelenting flood of dumped and subsidized sugar from Mexico has overwhelmed the U.S. market and USDA’s efforts, and we’ve been left with no alternative but to file these cases.”

The Mexican sugar industry—20 percent of which is owned and operated by the Mexican government—has rapidly increased exports to the United States in recent years, rising from 9 percent of the U.S. market in 2011/2012 to nearly18 percent in 2012/2013. Over that same period, historic surpluses have sent U.S. sugar prices to unsustainable levels.

“Sugar is a critical industry in Louisiana with an annual economic impact of $3.5 billion and roughly 27,000 employees,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who supports an investigation into the sugar dumping. “Louisiana sugar producers deserve a fair and level playing field. I firmly believe that this petition is in the best interest of Louisiana sugar producers, and is an important step toward ensuring that they receive a fair price for their product.”