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.

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.

Growing Up: USDA Program Helps New Farmers Starting Out

Each spring, recent graduates begin their difficult quest to find gainful employment in their fields, but for those starting out in agriculture, it’s a tough time to get in the field all year long.

That’s why a USDA program in the new Farm Bill, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, seeks to help those farmers just starting out through grant money. USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden was recently in Louisiana to announce more than $18 million in grants through BFRDP, in part, to help farmers get started.

“As new farmers and ranchers get started, they are really looking to their community for support,” Harden said. “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities.”

For residents of one New Orleans neighborhood, agriculture is right outside their front door. The Recirculating Farms Coalition has a community garden on Carondolet and now has more money to grow. Harden recently toured the garden and the community projects to help agriculture, even in urban areas. 

“I’ve been meeting with some folks who live right across the street in the building, have a raised bed with their kids and they’re showing them how to grow food, where it comes from,” Harden said. “Aquaponics is a good, big part of this. There are some chickens, the kids are laughing at where the eggs come from, learning all sorts of things. So, it’s revitalizing and helping an area the needs extra attention, but also helping them learn about healthy eating.”

The Recirculating Farms Coalition recently received $500,000 from BFRDP, according to  Marianne Cufone is the executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition.

“The program itself will help supply classes like farming 101, how to market your produce, becoming more sustainable in terms of energy usage and water usage,” Cufone said. “It’s really very important for our community because folks here, we’ve learned, don’t pay for classes, or aren’t able to pay for classes and so, this grant will allow us to offer those classes for free.”

Harden said she could already see the effect the program was having and hoped for a similar effect in rural areas as well.

“This grant is extra special,” she said. “They have a great beginning, but they’re going to be doing night and weekend classes for folks interested in learning about how to grow their own food.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced at the American Farm Bureau convention in San Diego, there is now more the $18 million of the grant program is available now and the deadline to apply is March 31st. More information can be found on the USDA’s website or at www.twilatv.org.

Traffic on the Railway? Nation’s Rail Systems Need Overhaul to Keep Food Flowing

With the nation’s largest river system flowing right through our state, we often take for granted what it takes to actually ship goods around the country.

Most grain farmers here in the state get their products to market means a relatively short truck drive to a grain elevator, often at a port along the river. However, for most folks in the rest of the country, it means shipping by rail.

For the past couple of years, railways nationwide have been congested due to a multitude of issues. American Farm Bureau transportation specialist Andrew Walmsley says this congestion has made it difficult for farmers to move grain.

“Because of this large harvest that we had last year and these rail issues, farmers were getting a lower price for their goods,” Walmsley said. “Since then, we've progressed and not seen as many issues. The railroads really responded with the need for putting more trains on the rails and trying to adjust the system to handle more of the goods, and luckily we haven’t seen those issues as bad as we did last year.”

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing Wednesday and addressed some of these rail issues.

“It was a pretty broad discussion on the many challenges that are out there, but it’s something we think Congress needs to continue to take a look at to ensure the railroads are operating the best way that they can and that agriculture is getting the best service that they can,” Walmsley said.

He did add that steps are being taken to move forward. The railroads continue to discuss capital investment to build capacity and make improvements.

“I think there’s going to continue to be some oversight and investigation into the whole picture of what our freight rail network looks like,” Senator Thune last year introduced a Surface Transportation Board - STB - reform bill that Farm Bureau supported. We expect him to introduce similar legislation this Congress.”

Even if it doesn’t hugely impact farmers here, it’s important to continue researching this issue so that farmers and ranchers can reach their export markets as timely and efficiently as possible.