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.

Anderson Begins 27th Term as La. Farm Bureau President

NEW ORLEANS –– Ronnie Anderson, a beef cattle producer and forage grower from Ethel, La., has been re-elected president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Anderson, 67, begins his 27th term as president of the state’s largest general farm organization. His re-election took place Sunday, June 28 during the Farm Bureau’s 93rd annual meeting.

“The big talk at the convention this year was all the rain and the low commodity prices,” Anderson said. “Our cotton and rice farmers in the state are really on the ropes right now and it’s more important than ever to participate in Farm Bureau to help us fight for agriculture’s future.”

Nearly 2,000 farmers from across the state gathered in the Crescent City for the largest statewide ag meeting, which saw a gubernatorial forum with each of the four announced candidates.

“Our farmers got a chance to hear from each candidate what their position on agriculture is,” Anderson said. “The fact that they got to hear them and that they took time out of their schedules to be with us is a major win for ag in and of itself.

Linda Zaunbrecher, who had served as third vice-president for more than 25 years and on the board as a whole for 32 years, stepped down at the convention. Zaunbrecher was honored numerous times over the convention. Her husband and rice farmer, Wayne, passed away just two weeks earlier after a brief illness and was honored at a memorial service Sunday morning.

“It’s just not going to be the same without Linda and Wayne around,” Anderson said. “Linda was a pioneer. She was constantly there to provide a voice not only for rice farmers, but for all of Louisiana agriculture, including the farm women who are our partners and friends. I know Linda will stay active as a voice for Farm Bureau, but we will miss her on the board.”

Richard Fontenot, a rice and grain farmer from Evangeline Parish, was elected as third vice-president. The Farm Bureau board of directors is made up of a five-member executive committee and an 11-member board of directors. The Farm Bureau also re-elected three current members of its executive committee. Each member is a production farmer, actively engaged in agriculture.

Those re-elected Sunday to the Farm Bureau’s executive committee were Jim Harper, first vice president, Scott Wiggers, second vice president and Mike Melancon, as secretary-treasurer. 

Members of the Farm Bureau’s 11-member board of directors serve in two-year terms. Odd-numbered districts are elected in odd-numbered years. Marty Wooldridge, of Caddo Parish, will represent farmers in District 1 in the northwest portion of the state. Serving farmers in District 2 will be Butch Oaks, a poultry producer from Ouachita Parish. District 3 will be represented by grain producer Robert Warren from Madison Parish.

Bill Cheek, from Natchitoches Parish, will represent farmers in District 4, in Central Louisiana. Serving District 5, in south central Louisiana, will be Russell Bailes from Vernon Parish, who replaces Richard Fontenot, of Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish. In District 6, farmers will be represented by Kenny Self, a sugar producer from Pointe Coupee Parish. James Cox from Cameron Parish, will represent farmers in District 7, in southwest Louisiana.

Errol Domingues, president of the Vermilion Parish Farm Bureau, will represent District 8. District 9 will be represented by Fred Bass from St. Tammany Parish. District 10 will be represented by Greg Gravois of St. James Parish, while District 11 will be represented by Ralph Babin from Lafourche Parish Parish.

Amelia Kent, a beef cattle producer from Tangipahoa Parish, was elected chair of the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Denise Cannatella, a grain producer from Melville, in St. Landry Parish, was re-elected chairman of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. The YF&R chairman and the Women’s Committee chair serve as ex-officio members of the Farm Bureau board of directors.

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation wrapped up its convention June 28. The Farm Bureau is a non-profit, private volunteer membership organization of Louisiana farmers and ranchers.

An Open Door: Candidates Promise Farmers Will Have Voice in New Administration

With the election for governor little more than four months away, the four major candidates for office stated their case before a crowd of more than 500 at the 93rd annual Louisiana Farm Bureau Convention Friday afternoon.

The forum participants, Republican Scott Angelle, Republican Jay Dardenne, Democrat Jon Bel Edwards and Republican Sen. David Vitter, answered questions about current political topics of the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage and the Confederate flag issue, as well as addressing their views on agriculture and leadership. Radio host Jim Engster moderated the forum.

All of the candidates expressed interest in working with Farm Bureau and having an ‘open-door’ policy in regards to addressing agriculture issues in the state.

Sen. Vitter referenced his political history with Farm Bureau and his track record of engaging the farmers and ranchers who have visited Capitol Hill during his tenure as senator.

“The best proof of that is how I've always operated in office and my great working relationship with the Farm Bureau,” Vitter said. “There's not a visit the Farm Bureau makes to Congress that I do not personally visit with their representatives.”

Citing a lack of attention to interdepartmental working relationships, Dardenne, who currently serves as lieutenant governor, committed to having an organized approach to leadership on ag issues facing the state.

“I certainly want to consult with Farm Bureau when it comes to political appointments for folks who are dealing with issues affecting your industry,” Dardenne said. “I'm going to meet regularly with all the statewide elected officials including Commissioner Strain, with whom I already have a great working relationship.”

Edwards, the lone Democrat on the panel, said his focus would be on the economic impact agriculture had on the state and facilitating growth within the industry.

“Certainly, it's important that Farm Bureau have that input and I will be consulting with them when it comes to political appointments for boards and other positions that directly impact agriculture,” Edwards said. “As governor, I want to constantly asses the impact agriculture has on our economy, as well as all the value-added industries that relate to agri-business to make sure we're taking full advantage of every opportunity.”

Angelle also had a business angle to his approach to agriculture, citing statistics on the variety and level ag impacts Louisiana.

“I clearly understand the value of agriculture, a world leader in rice, corn, soybeans, forestry and seafood products, among others,” Angelle said. “With 28,000 farmers covering 28 million acres, it's important to the Louisiana economy and it needs to be important to the chief executive of the state.”

Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said the real winners of the forum were the audience members.

“I’m glad all the candidates kept things civil and even friendly at times,” Anderson said.  “Rather than exchanging barbs, I think we heard a real conversation on agriculture and what each candidate would bring to the table potentially as governor.”

Governor’s Forum To Highlight 2015 Louisiana Farm Bureau Convention

A governor’s forum with the four major candidates for office will be one of the many highlights at this year’s 93rd annual convention of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, held at the New Orleans Marriott on Canal St. June 25-28, 2015. 

The four candidates, Republican Scott Angelle, Republican Jay Dardenne, Democrat Jon Bel Edwards and Republican Sen. David Vitter, have all confirmed their appearance at the forum, which will be in a question-and-answer format moderated by radio host Jim Engster.  The forum will be held Friday, June 26 at 1 p.m. in the Carondelet Room. 

“We are excited to be the host for the first forum of this year’s gubernatorial race to address agriculture issues,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau. “Policies at the state level directly affect the farmers and ranchers of this state, so it is important that our producers hear the candidates’ positions on the issues. We’re gratified that Mr. Engster will be our moderator, as his years of experience in talking politics on his show will mean great questions for our forum.”

Engster also will broadcast his show from this year’s convention on both Thursday and Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Expected guests include LFBF President Ronnie Anderson, Rep. Ralph Abraham and Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain. 

This year’s convention also will have conferences for the agriculture commodities grown in Louisiana and general sessions to set organizational policy for the coming year. In addition, there will be numerous awards and youth activities including Young Farmer and Rancher contests, a talent competition and the crowning of the 2015 Louisiana Farm Bureau Queen.

A general session will be held on Friday following the gubernatorial forum. All Farm Bureau members are invited to hear the reports on the state of agriculture in Louisiana. A voting delegates session will wrap up the convention on Sunday, June 28th at 9:30 a.m. 

Young farmers from across the state will compete in the YF&R Achievement Award contest, the Outstanding Young Farm Woman contest and the Excellence in Agriculture Award contest. This year’s YF&R Achievement Award finalists are Russell and Amelia Kent of East Feliciana Parish, Dustin and Ashley Morris of Richland Parish and Adler and Natachia Stelly of Vermilion Parish. The Achievement Award is presented to the young farm or ranch couple whose operation typifies diversity and sound farming practices. A variety of prizes will be presented to the winner, including a $40,000 voucher for a Chevrolet or GMC vehicle, compliments of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company.

The Discussion Meet is designed to engage young farmers in timely topics of discussion that impact the state’s farming operations. The winner will be selected from participants at the meet Thursday during the convention. The YF&R Excellence in Agriculture Award winner honors those who have supporting roles in agriculture, or those who may be part-time farmers. Louisiana’s Outstanding Young Farm Woman is presented to women producers who promote leadership in the continuation of the family farm here in Louisiana. The Talk Meet is aimed at younger audiences, ages 15-19 who answer a variety of agriculturally-related questions that deal with current events.

All awards for these contests will be announced Thursday, June 25 at a ceremony beginning at 5:30 p.m. The final award that night will be the President’s Trophy, awarded to the parish that best qualified in Farm Bureau-related activities during the previous year.

The Farm Bureau Talent Contest is open to youth ages 6 to 19 and the winners in each parish contest compete in New Orleans each year. The contest is divided into Junior and Senior divisions and generally includes musical performances. This year’s contest will be held at 5:30 p.m., Friday, June 26.

The crowning of the Farm Bureau Queen occurs on the final night of convention, Saturday, June 27 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Parishes select contestants who will compete to represent the Louisiana Farm Bureau at various ag-related events year-round, such as state fairs, festivals and trade shows across the state. The entire contest will be available on YouTube following the event.   

A special viewing of This Week In Louisiana Agriculture, a half-hour television show produced by the Louisiana Farm Bureau will be held Friday, June 26 at 11:30 a.m., concerning this year’s passing of long-time Director of Public Relations Michael Danna.

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing the farmers and ranchers in Louisiana at the parish, state and national levels. More information on Farm Bureau and this year’s convention can be found at lfbf.org.

Record Rainfall Floods Fields, Causes Disease Damage Amid Low Crop Prices

The threat to Ryan Yerby’s soybean fields grew inch by inch and hour by hour, but the water never stopped coming in. 

As the Red River saw flooding unlike anything seen since World War II, it also caused water to back up in creeks and local bayous like the ones near Yerby’s field. Even after the rains slacked off, the water rose higher and all he could do was watch as vibrant fields became inundated. 

“The water is steadily rising anywhere from six inches to a foot-and-a-half a day depending on the local rainfall,” Yerby said. “So where I’m standing right now will go under water and we will lose the crop that’s planted on it.”    

Part of the flooding is due to May’s torrential rainfall, which USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey said was the wettest month in the United States since records have been kept. Yerby’s farm is located in Grant Parish one mile east of the Red River, already swollen with water from Texas. He said last month’s seven inches of local rain is adding to the flood water flowing south, causing the river to swell outside the banks.     

“There’s a lock system at the Red River, that due to the river level they can’t open it,” Yerby said.  “So that’s pushing all of this water back up on our farms and on our fields, so it has nowhere to go. We haven’t even been able to get back there to try to cut it. Now with all the backwater issue it’s starting to go under water so we can’t even get in there to try to cut it. So basically the crop is an entire loss.

 “Here you can see where these two bayous have created one giant pool of water,” he added about two bayous that have merged and now looks like a river as wide as the Red is normally.   

Some of the fields did get saved, thanks in part to drone technology that lets Yerby get a look from above.

“We can look at where it’s coming in, how far back it’s pushing, check to see how much of the crop is drowned out,” he said  “We can see more, do more faster and make a better decision on what we have to do.”

Yerby says he can use photos and videos from his drone to document the damage for his crop insurance, at least, something Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said is vital during a disaster like this one.

“Keep good records, because we may end up with a disaster declaration due to excessive rainfall,” Strain said. “Especially when we get to harvest based on not only total of volume, but quality of the crops.”  

Strain says that farmers across the state are facing damage from too much moisture, either directly in Yerby’s case, or by other indirect means. 

“They will either scald from the heat or just stunted from a lack of oxygen able to get to the roots,” Strain said. “With commodity prices as low as they are, and the margins being as tight as they are, it kind of makes you wonder, will there be a next year?”

All that’s left of the wheat crop at Engemann farms in Maringouin is stubble and ash where Curt and his brother Mark harvested about 400 acres and burned the remaining 200 acres.

“Normally when you would do that, you’d have a lot of pretty kernels. I see one,” Curt Engemann said with a dry laugh. Engemann said an outbreak of the disease fusarium, or scab, is partly to blame for the wheat crop to be too damaged to even harvest. Even with the wheat the Engemann’s were able to harvest, Curt said they will not earn enough to cover their investment.

“We projected this winter that the wheat crop would gross somewhere around $200,000,” he said. “Now that’s not profit, that’s just gross, but, we would gross around $200,000 and it’s looking like, from what we harvested, we’re looking at somewhere around $50,000 to $60,000.”

That money doesn’t cover the fuel, fertilizer and seed costs the Engemann’s  have already spent, nor will it cover the cost to fix the ruts in the fields prior to their fall sugarcane planting. Dr. Stephen Harrison with the LSU AgCenter said the rain that’s to blame for these ruts is also to blame for the diseases which destroyed wheat yields across the state, in what he describes as the “worst wheat crop” of his career.

“What happened this year was that we had two weeks of rainfall where it rained every other day and that happened right during flowering,” Harrison said. “Well, its during flowering that fusarium infects the wheat plant. So, anytime you have a lot of rain during flowering, you’re more prone to having a scab epidemic.”

It’s not just grain farmers suffering either. Marty Wooldridge, a Caddo Parish cattle producer is looking at 500 acres of pasture that’s underwater. While all the rain had been great for grass, when it floods like he’s seen on his acreage north of Shreveport, it will be at least two months before cattle can graze there again.

“Basically, we’ve written off our summer grazing for those areas,” Wooldridge said. “It takes 30 days for the roots to begin growing once it dries out, which could be the end of June. That means it’ll be August before they’re green again. We finished this winter with only 40 or 50 bales of hay, so this not only hits us now, but what is it going to be like once winter comes?”

A “Shark Tank” on the Farm: Competition Seeks to Help Ag Entrepreneurs

Rural entrepreneurs looking to get their break will have their shot at a Farm Bureau-sponsored, “Shark Tank”-style competition.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is now accepting applications for the 2016 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs developing food and agriculture businesses. The challenge, now in its second year, provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase ideas and business innovations being cultivated in rural communities across the United States.

“The inaugural challenge successfully identified rural entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, proving that great business ideas can germinate anywhere,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said. “We’re excited to see the new crop of ideas our members will bring to the table this year.”

Local businesses are the heartbeat of rural communities, which is why Farm Bureau wants to reward and encourage that entrepreneurial spirit. The challenge is an important tool for highlighting the hard work and ingenuity of rural businesses. Commitment to helping rural communities thrive is what drives this competition, with the challenge awarding $145,000 to the top 10 businesses.

The final four entrepreneurs will compete in a live “Shark-Tank”-style competition, similar to last year’s, at AFBF’s 97th Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida, in January.

ScoutPro, Inc., the 2015 Rural Entrepreneur of the Year, said the final four portion of the challenge provided their business the invaluable opportunity to network across the agriculture and rural development industry. In addition to creating networking opportunities, the challenge will work to connect top scoring teams with resources for crowdfunding loans to help them jumpstart their businesses.

“Taking a startup company from innovative concept, to strategy, to reality often hinges on access to capital,” Dr. Lisa Benson, AFBF’s director of rural development, said. “The challenge and crowdfunding are great opportunities for small rural business owners to access necessary funding to take their business to the next level.”

To apply, rural entrepreneurs need to submit a business plan, video pitch and photo by June 30. Additionally, competitors must be based in a rural community as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Competitors’ primary residences or businesses must be located in a county with less than 50,000 residents or in a town with less than 2,500 residents.

The competition timeline, detailed eligibility guidelines, the online application and profiles of the 2015 finalist teams are available at http://www.strongruralamerica.com/challenge.