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 Cream Rises to the Top

There’s an old saying in the dairy business that “the cream rises to the top.”

For dairymen these days, this increasingly means rising in the sense of vertical integration.  Low dairy prices are forcing many producers to be ‘one-stop shops,’ where not only cows are milked, but the finished product is made right there on the farm.

For the Flowing Hills Creamery in Belmont, finding success has meant exactly that—bottling milk from the same folks who have been there for generations. Owner Carlton Salley said mixing things up is good for his farm, just like it is for the milk, which isn’t homogenized.

“We’ve got Holsteins, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows out here,” he said. “In homogenization, you break down enzymes that your body needs and by doing what we do, you don't break those enzymes down."

At Flowing Hills, the Salley’s also pasteurize their milk a little differently, again to preserve what is naturally healthy in this milk and destroy potentially harmful bacteria found in raw milk.

“We do a low-vat pasteurization,” Salley said. “We get to about 145-150 degrees for 30 minutes and then we immediately cool it back down. From the time we start our process, our pasteurization, we try to have it back cooled down and ready to bottle within two hours.”

The pasteurizer on the Salley farm isn’t new. In fact, it used to be the Smith Creamery vat, another pioneer in dairy integration in Louisiana.  After an explosion destroyed the creamery in June of 2011, it sat unused until Carton Salley bought it.

The destruction of one creamery led to the rebirth of dairy in Sabine Parish. Even though Salley has been raising dairy cows since 1979, he got out of the business in 2008. Just last year, though, the Salley’s decided the only way they could make it in the dairy business was to bottle and market their own milk. They planned to start small. This pasteurizer changed that plan.

“It was 600 gallons and we had to change the complete form of the plant and ad o to it before we even got started,” said Brenda Salley. “So, it's like God just dropped in and opened those doors and so, we just have to pasteurize more. We get it out to the public and want it more every day.”

Husband Carlton agrees.

“I never intended for it to grow like it has, but I've been well blessed,” he added.

The Salley’s got out of the dairy business six years ago for the same reason many dairymen are--it's tough to make ends meet. It's his experience at a local farmers market directly selling dairy products that changed his mind.

“I knew that it was going to be ok when you have local return people, you know, just come back with their ice chests after two or three weeks,” Salley said.  “I knew then that it was going to be ok.” 

Floods Delay Harvest

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

The irrigation pumps are running again this summer in Monterey, La., but this time they’re not putting water into the fields.

According to the National Weather Service, there are parts of the state which received more than three times the normal amount of rainfall over the last month and a half.  The latest rain system dumped nearly six inches of rain in just one day on soybean fields like the ones belonging to Landon White, leaving his crops under water.

“I’m tired of it,” White said.  “Very tired of the wet weather.  These rains have come, not a little a time, but two and four inch rains at a time.  It’s been huge rains and too much water too quickly with nowhere to go.”

If you want to know how much rain fell when the last storms passed through, all you have to do is look at Landon’s old, trusty rain gauge: nearly five inches. It’s not the first time he’s seen that this crop year.

“This is the third time I’ve had to pump water off of some of the graded fields that we have,” he said.

LSU AgCenter weather specialist Jay Grymes sympathizes with White and not just for the cost of pumps running.

“For harvesting operations, that is a serious headache,” Grymes said.

In a normal summer, Louisiana sees about five cold fronts. Grymes said those fronts not only bring rain, but also cooler temperatures which slow evaporation.

“The soil we can think of in simple terms as a can,” he said.  “Once the can is full, that’s it and the water has no place to go. So, when it rains on saturated soils, it either just sits there or has to wait to run off.

“With that reduced evaporation, standing water just stays that much longer,” Grymes added.  “In this situation where farmers are trying to get out into the fields, every day with standing water is costing them money.”

Eric Cooper also grows soybeans in Concordia Parish. He’s worried that his soybeans will either begin sprouting or rotting in the field. If that happens now, after he’s already fully invested in this crop with time, seed and fertilizer, it may cost him everything.

“It’d be an economic disaster for me,” Cooper said.  “I mean, we’ve got crop insurance, but it’s not enough. So, we definitely need to get this crop out of the fields.”

Jay Grymes said what farmers like White and Landon need now is drier than normal weather. At least for the time being that looks promising but with so much moisture in the soil, it’s going to take a while for everything to dry out.

 “From the planting day to the harvest day, too much rain means big problems through the crop cycle,” he said.  “The problem basically ends up transferring into dollars lost.”

Beef Prices Reflect Cattle Supply Comeback

For use in local newspapers, week of August 11,2014:

It's a situation of good news and bad news for beef prices—while we are starting to see signs of building back our cattle supply, it won't be anytime soon.

USDA's most recent Cattle-on-Feed Report indicates continued low supplies in the short term, but a clear indication of farmers rebuilding. While cattle going into feedlots is the lowest since 1996, the biggest drop is in heifer and heifer calves, down five percent from a year ago, seeming to show retention for breeding purposes.

However, Chris Hurt, a livestock economist with Purdue University says farmers are going to be reticent to jump back in fully. In the meantime, it leaves the beef industry vulnerable to competition, he said.

“We're really out to 2017 before we can see additional beef supplies getting to consumers,” Hurt said. “This gives a very long time frame for the  poultry and pork industry to garner greater and greater market share of that total meat consumption.”

Hurt said this will prevent many producers from rapid expansion of their herds.

“Psychologically, it leaves producers saying ‘we better wait, we better not be aggressive in expanding until we can see if we can maintain very profitable prices on beef production,” Hurt said.

The good news for producers, higher prices aside, is the perceived value of beef and beef products.  Hurt said it should keep the industry afloat as supplies are rebuilt.  

“We do have a bright financial situation for the beef industry, not just for the next two years, but for six to eight years ahead,” he said. “I think we shouldn't worry about market share. We should focus on a high-quality product that has high demand from consumers and I think that's what we're seeing.”

In addition, Hurt sees the Southeast as primed to begin livestock expansion. Drought concerns in the Southern Plains and competition with grains in the Midwest will keep those areas from expanding the cattle herd as fast or as well as their Southern neighbors.

“Clearly, we will see expansion in areas further towards the east coast,” Hurt said. “Really, the Southeast and the Delta region in particular are ones where we have lots of reason to think we have the conditions and the profit incentive for that to occur.” 

Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau and a cattle rancher himself, said Louisiana is in prime condition to expand its cattle herd.

“The last couple of years of drought we've seen trailers full of hay headed west into Texas and Oklahoma,” Anderson said. “Our pastures here are great, corn is now around $3.50 per bushel and we're a lot closer to the feedlots than many other Southern states. We've always been a cow-calf state and I think you're going to see a lot of growth in our herds, especially with feeder cattle more than $2 a pound.”

Farm Bureau Members to Meet with Members of Congress

For use in local newspapers, week of August 4, 2014:

Overreach by the EPA and immigration are sure to top the agenda as Farm Bureau members prepare for serious discussions with members of Congress now in their home districts.

With mid-term elections just around the corner, farmers are taking this prime opportunity to share stories of how regulations like the EPA’s latest Waters of the U.S. rule and immigration reform directly affect their livelihood. 

“Congress needs to hear from America’s farmers,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said. “Environmental over-regulation and unworkable immigration rules are serious threats to American agriculture. We need action sooner than later on both of these issues.”

Thanks to our grassroots effort, Farm Bureau members have been spreading the word on the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which would expand the federal government’s reach to previously unregulated land and expose farmers to fines and penalties for normal farming activities.

Twelve thousand Farm Bureau members have already submitted comments to the EPA in opposition to the rule. With more than 205,000 comments submitted to the EPA’s public docket, it’s time for Congress to listen up and take action to stop the EPA before it’s too late.

Agricultural labor reform is essential to helping American farms thrive. Farm Bureau recently redoubled its efforts to raise awareness of agriculture’s need for immigration reform by joining with the Partnership for a New American Economy on a new digital ad campaign. Videos, infographics and #IFarmImmigration tweets tell stories of how a broken immigration system is hurting farmers like Bernie Thiel, who had to destroy some of his crops for two years in a row when he was unable to find the workers he needed to harvest. 

“A farmer should never have to destroy a crop due to the lack of an adequate labor force,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said. “If that situation doesn’t illustrate the clear need for agricultural labor reform, I’m not sure what will.”

AFBF Responds to EPA's Clean Water Rule

For use in local newspapers, week of July 28,2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The American Farm Bureau Federation has released a comprehensive document to Congress that responds, point by point, to numerous inaccurate and misleading comments made about the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest clean water rule.

Nancy Stoner, EPA acting assistant administrator for water, made the statements in a recent agency blog post. AFBF’s document responded with specific citations to the proposed rule and other authorities on how the rule would give EPA broad Clean Water Act jurisdiction over dry land features and farming practices long declared off-limits by Congress and the nation’s highest court.

“AFBF and several state Farm Bureaus have met with the EPA repeatedly, and each time agency officials have declined to grapple with the serious, real world implications of the rule,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said. “EPA is now engaged in an intensive public relations campaign, and we believe its statements are directly contrary to the reality of the proposed rule.

“We have therefore decided to take our arguments to a wider audience, as well. Farm Bureau is dedicated to communicating to farmers, their elected representatives and the public how the proposed rule will impose costly and time-intensive federal permitting regimes on commonplace and essential practices that our nation’s farmers and ranchers depend on. Agency inspectors and courts will apply the rule, not EPA’s talking points. It’s time for the agency to ditch this rule and start over.”

AFBF hopes this document will contribute to the ongoing discussion in Congress regarding the rule and its implications not only for farming, but for the U.S. economy more broadly.

The document can be found here: http://bit.ly/1mhsL2Z  A shorter sampling of some of the most important points can be found here: http://bit.ly/1rr8hdi