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.

La. Politicians at Louisiana Farm Bureau Convention

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

NEW ORLEANS – The recent Louisiana Farm Bureau convention here attracted farmers and ranchers by the hundreds, but also proved to be a popular stop for Louisiana politicians. 

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), running for re-election this year, made a stop at the sugar commodity conference before visiting with other farmers. She told Farm Bureau members at the conference there is still a lot of work to be done in Washington.

“This industry is worth fighting for,” Landrieu said. “We have got to keep the power that we have there to keep our sugar program and all of our good farmer support. But, they do need the government to help and stabilize them sometimes, when there’s crisis or disasters, to keep that going.” 

Laura Cassidy, the wife of 6th District Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge), spoke to Louisiana Farm Bureau members about her husband’s dedication to agriculture. Congressman Cassidy is running against Senator Landrieu in this fall’s election. 

Rep. Vance McAllister, (R-Swartz) attended the convention and announced the day after it ended he would run for re-election for his 5th District seat. McAllister had previously said that he would not seek another term in office shortly after video surfaced of the congressman kissing one of his married staffers. 

Congressman McAllister says he wants to stay in office because he says he has been an effective voice for his constituents and for Louisiana agriculture in Washington. 

“It don’t matter whether you’re running or you’re not running, when you’re talking to other members of Congress, if the story that you’re telling is true and real and it has justice and meat to it, then it works,” McAllister said. “I mean, we all got to support our farmers and take care of them and you just got to be able to relay that message and let them know how vital it is.”

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain, who made it a point to attend every commodity conference, said Louisiana’s export business was “on fire.”

“(U.S. Agriculture Secretary) Tom Vilsack tells us to expect the volume of ag exports to increase 30 percent over the next two years,” Strain said. “Louisiana’s total ag value was $11.8 billion last year, double what it was seven years ago.”

U. S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) also spoke to voting delegates at the convention. While he’s not up for re-election, Vitter has announced his plans to run for Governor of Louisiana. 

92nd Annual Meeting Labor and Environmental Conference

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

NEW ORLEANS – Faced with a federal minimum wage increase, proposed changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard and immigration reform, farmers packed the Labor and Environmental Conference held Friday during the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

All three issues have one thing in common — they’re all likely to impact farming’s bottom line.  Brian Breaux of the Louisiana Farm Bureau told participants to start with, employers with federal government contracts will have to pay more per hour at the start of next year.

“An executive order was issued that raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour for workers under new and renegotiated federal government contracts,” Breaux said. “This executive order also increases the minimum wage for tipped employees of those same government contractors and subcontractors beginning Jan. 1, 2015.”

After 2015, the executive order mandates organizations with federal government contracts increase the minimum wage every year with inflation based on the U.S. Consumer Price Index, Breaux said.

Proposed changes to the EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard could prove significant for producers and crop consultants, Breaux said. Highlights of the proposed changes include workplace safety training must be provided for workers every year instead of every five years. The workplace safety exemption for crop advisors and their employees has been eliminated.

“Responsible immigration reform that addresses border security and provides farmers access to a legal and stable workforce remains a priority for Farm Bureau,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “True reform can only be accomplished through legislation. We will continue to press for solutions on this important issue on behalf of America’s food producers.”

“This is our last chance for immigration reform,” Breaux added. “Talk to your legislators and let them know how important this is.”

Also during the Labor and Environmental Conference, Mike Bertaut of the Louisiana Blue Cross Insurance Company advised participants to enlist the help of a trained insurance agent to help them understand the Affordable Care Act and its impact on farm workers and farm employers.

“This (act) can be very confusing for someone who hasn’t been trained to understand all of its intricacies,” Bertaut said. “Employers and people who don’t understand the details of the act and what is required of them, run the risk of facing some hefty fines. Your best bet is to find a qualified insurance agent, an agent you trust, who can advise you on what to do. You don’t want to get caught doing something, or not doing something, you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do.”

The Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010. Full implementation of the ACA will be completed in 2015.

Jerome Zeringue of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority gave an update on the authority’s Master Plan for Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Flood Protection.

“Over the last 80 years, we have lost 1,900 square miles of coastal land,” Zeringue said. “If things don’t change, if things continue as they are, there is a potential to lose 1,756 square miles more of land over the next 50 years. If this happens, the U.S. economy will be negatively affected.”

Progression in Food Production

For use in local newspapers, week of June 23,2014:

There have been many positive changes in food production, which is important moving forward, according to Oklahoma State University Professor Dr. Jayson Lusk.

Still, Lusk says there needs to be more thoughtful discussion to ensure there are avenues for new technologies in food production to address challenges of feeding a growing population.

“I spend my career researching the consumer, and partly it is to understand what kinds of new technologies and products will be profitable to market, but also to try to understand the consequences of public policies,” Lusk said.  “I think creating a political environment in which people are accepting of those new technologies will be a significant challenge going forward.”

Lusk says consumer behaviors toward food production interact with agriculture in two ways. One is through the marketplace as consumers decide which products they pay for.

“Consumers use their wallets to determine the prices that farmers ultimately get paid, so there is a need to pay attention to what consumers are doing,” he said.  “But there’s also important to see how they’re voting, and I think that’s where some of the significant challenges have come about recently, whether we’re talking about animal welfare issues or genetically engineered foods, that sometimes, consumers will vote for things that they won’t be willing to pay for, and that can often put producers in a pickle.”

New Mexico State University Agricultural Economics Regents Professor Dr. Lowell Catlett says for agriculture, there’s never been such a period of prosperity worldwide as now. He says the growing population aspires for a better quality of life, which translates to opportunities for agriculture.

“So they’ve got money, and they’re willing to spend it on food and preservation of natural resources, which is what agriculture has been doing in the United States for years,” Catlett said.  “So, it’s just a great time to be in the industry.”

Regarding the use of genetically modified technology, Catlett says there is no single aspect of agriculture that has not been genetically modified in agriculture’s 10,000 years.

“Corn itself is grass,” Catlett said.  “Neolithic woman basically started crossing different grasses until we got present day corn. Well, that was genetic modification. And we’ve done so with all of our domestic animals because Mother Nature does that. So, to say that we’re against genetic modified organisms is basically to say you’re against agriculture because that’s what’s happened by Mother Nature."

GMO Answers

For use in local newspapers, week of June 16, 2014:

Even as they have and continue to feed the world, genetically-modified crops continue to be plagued by misinformation, distractions and even outright lies. 

That’s why GMO Answers was created as an initiative to develop an open, transparent dialogue about biotechnology and how food is grown. GMO Answers spokesperson Cathleen Enright, vice president of food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, says the biotechnology industry is working to share positive stories about agricultural biotechnology beyond agriculture circles.

"We just hadn’t done a good job communicating about what we do. For example, things as simple as how GMOs are developed and tested, why farmers choose them or not, and what the safety data says. And as a result, we were really forfeiting public opinion about GMOs."

GMO Answers is multi-pronged, but Enright says it is website-based.

"The hallmark of the initiative is a public Q&A about GMOs, where third-party independent experts as well as biotechnology company employees answer consumers’ questions publicly."

Consumers are invited to visit the website and ask any question, and Enright says many have. Since GMO Answers was launched last year, more than 700 questions have been asked and about 500 have been answered.

"The goal is to provide a one-stop resource about GMOs that will enable consumers to decide for themselves how they feel about the technology and the products, but with facts in hand and with a fuller appreciation of the full conversation that’s taking place online and across social media about GMOs."

Rare Storm Shatters Records and Crops

For use in local newspapers, week of June 9, 2014:

Upwards of 20 inches of rain fell across parts of south Louisiana in late May, not only shattering rainfall records, but also the crops of farmers in the area.

St. James Parish farmer Greg Gravois saw rains that left more than 100 acres of soybeans underwater. After the storm, water rushed over a road that doubles as a levee separating two fields, the water thigh-deep in some areas.

Days after the downpour Gravois still was running his pumps to move water out of his fields. However, as soon as the rain clouds cleared, the scalding summer sun killed what the floods did not.

It’s not the first time those fields have seen loss this year. Earlier this summer, he lost the same acreage to drought. Gravois finished replanting his soybeans only two weeks before the record amounts of rain and now must decide whether to replant yet again.

“I’m not quite sure at this point,” Gravois said. “The cutoff date for planting for crop insurance is June 15th. It’ll take us a whole lot of drying up for me to get into this ground.”

In the meantime, Gravois’ pumps are running around the clock to get the water out of his fields. Greg’s father, Charles, said that he’d never seen water this high in his 85 years on the farm. Gravois won’t be able to replant some of his acres with soybeans as he needs the land to be clear to plant sugarcane in August.

Weather disasters are nothing new to farmers in Louisiana. Major hurricanes like Katrina, Gustav, and Isaac all flooded these same areas on Gravois’ farm. However, this year will be a first for him dealing with crop insurance under this new farm bill.

“This will be my first experience in dealing with crop insurance in between farm bills,” Gravois said. “Money is being appropriated as we speak for the program.”

This particular storm farmers experienced is a very rare event, according to Meteorologist Jay Grymes.

“We’re probably looking at a once-in-a-hundred-year event, if not even more rare than that,” Grymes said. “The key people need to understand, not just the ag people, but also anyone living in that area—this was an unusual event by every measure and so the flooding that we saw was not all that particularly surprising, especially when you see how quickly it arrived.”