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.

Despite Myth, Farming Environmental Impact Decreasing Over Time

Though they seldom get credit for it, U.S. farmers are, in fact, decreasing their environmental footprint.

Field to Market, the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, is helping farmers measure the environmental impact of farming, track and promote their improvement efforts, and share their progress with others in food and fiber supply chains.

The program promotes a voluntary, collaborative approach to sustainability that is expressly science-based, technology-neutral and focused on outcomes within a farmer’s control. Field to Market seeks to measure and advance the sustainability of agriculture. Its goal is to create opportunities for continuous improvement in productivity, environmental quality and consumer health.

The program involves a collaborative effort with more than 70 members – including the American Farm Bureau Federation – representing all facets of the food supply chain: from farmers and retailers to academics and conservation groups. Combined, Field to Market member companies represent nearly 4 million workers and $1.3 trillion in revenues.

Sustainability is a complex issue, with economic, environmental and social impacts. Food supply chain efforts to improve environmental sustainability, launched by major retail grocers, restaurant chains and processors, began in earnest in 2006. Field to Market was established in 2007 as an initiative of the Keystone Center, an independent, nonprofit organization that covers a wide array of environmental, energy and health policy issues. Field to Market became an independent, nonprofit organization in 2013.

“Going green” is trendy and lots of practices may sound “green,” but long-term improvement requires establishing metrics to measure actual impacts. From there, the supply chain can work together to set reasonable and achievable goals that do not favor improvement in one of the environmental, economic or social impact areas, while negatively affecting the others. In the mid-2000s, the concept of sustainability metrics was in its infancy. There was little understanding or agreement about which metrics could or should be measured, and few tools to undertake the daunting task.

In collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Agriculture Department and others, Field to Market developed the Fieldprint Calculator to help farmers assess the efficiency and environmental impacts of their management decisions. Corn, cotton, rice, wheat, potato and soybean farmers are using the Fieldprint Calculator to track and improve impact based on seven indicators: land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, water quality, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers can compare their performance against local, state and national averages developed using publically available data. Farmers can also use the calculator to share their progress with the rest of the supply chain.

Field to Market has ambitious goals. More than 1 million acres of farmland are currently involved with the program. By 2020, Field to Market hopes to cover 50 million acres, or about 20 percent of U.S. commodity crop fields.

Field to Market’s broader definition of sustainability is equally ambitious: to meet the needs of the present while giving future generations the tools to meet their own needs. The organization hopes to achieve this by focusing on critical outcomes: increasing productivity while improving the environment, human health, and the social and economic well-being of agricultural communities. Specific goals are tied to each indicator tracked in the Fieldprint Calculator.

A 2012 Field to Market report, which reviewed data from 1980 to 2011, tracked six crops and their environmental impact across five indicators: land use, soil erosion, irrigation water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The 2012 report showed that while greater productivity also led to increased resource use, all six crops tracked in the program demonstrated progress in improving resource use and impact per unit of production. Along with this progress, the report also shows room for improvement.

Continuous improvement is a guiding principle of Field to Market and all of its participants. Farmers often get criticized for their practices while their careful stewardship is too often overlooked. In addition to promoting, measuring, and improving environmental impact, Field to Market and its Fieldprint Calculator provide farmers with another very important tool – the means to track their progress and the facts to tell their stories.

AFBF Asks Congress To Shut Off the Tap on ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Rule

The American Farm Bureau Federation has asked Congress to pass legislation ordering the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the controversial “Waters of the United States” proposal.

In a letter copied to all members of Congress, AFBF President Bob Stallman wrote that the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 represents an opportunity for Congress to take “the first important step toward resolving this issue fairly.” The bill was approved this week by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)

If the legislation does not pass and EPA moves forward with a final rule, the likeliest result would be landowners “being forced to engage in expensive litigation to protect their rights.”

Farm Bureau also called into question a “Dear Colleague” letter circulating on Capitol Hill that mentions the American Farm Bureau by name. That letter states that delaying the rule would be “bad for farmers.”

“Because our name has been used, we feel obliged to make our position clear,” Stallman wrote. “Our members overwhelmingly oppose this rule. It is a bad rule for farmers. There is no question about that. Anyone who alleges the opposite either misunderstands the rule or misunderstands farming.”

AFBF also questioned the “Dear Colleague” letter’s assertion that delaying the WOTUS rule would leave “many of our nation’s waters unprotected.”

“As a matter of record, EPA has made repeated statements that the proposed rule does not expand its jurisdiction, while its proponents take the view … that without the rule, waters would be left unprotected. Proponents (of the WOTUS rule) cannot have it both ways.”

Farm Bureau believes without question that the WOTUS rule expands EPA’s authority beyond congressional intent and the limits imposed by two Supreme Court opinions. Among other provisions, AFBF said the proposed rule improperly extends federal regulation to isolated waters and, in cases, regulates land use under the guise of the WOTUS rule. The organization commended Chairman Shuster and the committee for their effort to draft and approve the bill for wider congressional consideration.

Feral Hogs Inflict $1.5 Billion In Damage Each Year; New Bill Would Allow Night Hunts

Protecting this year’s corn crop is almost a military operation—night vision equipment, helicopters and semi-automatic weapons are now needed to stop an enemy that’s doing $1.5 billion in damage to our crops each year.

If it sounds like overkill, you need to meet the enemy—the feral hog. Experts at the LSU AgCenter estimate there are about 400,000 of them in Louisiana and in order to keep that number from growing, hunters would have to kill about 80 percent of those hogs.

That’s 80 percent casualties just to keep the status quo, which is why Brandon McCartney, a farmer in Red River Parish uses army-style equipment to hunt hogs.

“This is what we use,” McCartney said as he pointed to his equipment before a recent hunt.  “These are military-grade, night-vision goggles. This is a handheld thermal imager we use as a spotter. To shoot, we use semi-automatic AR-15’s with a thermal scope.”

It’s by attaching a recorder to that scope that McCartney gets video evidence of hogs eating his corn. McCartney said in one night, hogs can destroy upwards of 40 acres of corn. That comes out to more than $20,000 in damage. 

“I’ve spent all day on a tractor planting corn and then I’m back out here at 11 p.m. We’ll be here until two or three in the morning and if you’re getting on the tractor again tomorrow, it quickly becomes work.”

For McCartney, eradicating these hogs almost seems like an impossible job because the current law does not allow him to hunt hogs at night during deer season and it also prevents him from killing hogs on his neighbors’ land, even if he has their permission. That gives these hogs a safe haven to breed. 

“With the current process that we have, we can’t go help them,” he said. “It’s off limits. It’s illegal.”

There’s a bill that will come before the Louisiana legislature this session which could allow farmers and ranchers to get an upper hand on this explosion of wild hogs by allowing year-round night hunting.  Rep. Richie Burford (R-Stonewall) filed a bill to allow year-round night hunting of hogs without a permit. Farm Bureau Legislative Specialist Joe Mapes says Burford’s leadership is the first step. 

“We’ve got leadership in the form of the chairman of the Senate committee, Sen. Gerald Long and leadership with Secretary Robert Barham of Wildlife and Fisheries,” Mapes said. “With those two together, we should be able to get it out of the House and finally let this bill out of the Senate.”

House Bill 167, filed by Rep. Burford will first go before the House Natural Resources Committee. Similar bills filed by Rep. Burford passed through that committee in the last two sessions only to die in the Senate.  Mapes said it appears farmers and ranchers now have the support of senators who opposed the bill in the past. If you want to help stop this scourge, call your representatives to tell them to support passage of HB 167. 

Young Farmer and Rancher Group Meets With Entire La. Congressional Delegation

Trade promotion authority, the farm bill, and the H2b guest worker program topped the list of issues that a Louisiana Young Farmer’s and Rancher’s group discussed with Louisiana’s Congressional delegation during their annual visit to Capitol Hill in March this year.

The YF&R group armed themselves with information at the American Farm Bureau headquarters in Washington, D.C. AFBF’s Executive Director of Public Policy Dale Moore told the seven YF&R visitors the federal budget will likely control much of their legislative agenda during this visit. Kassie Berard, a St. Martin parish sugar grower, said making in-person visits to Capitol Hill can make tremendous impacts back home.

“The misconception was that they would never listen and they make their own decisions and that’s just not the case anymore,” Berard said. “I had to be educated on exactly that they do want to listen to the issues and the things that we have to say because we are educating them about issues back home that we are having.”

The group also focused on issues during visits with Louisiana’s two freshman representatives: Ralph Abraham, (R-5th District) and Garrett Graves (R-6th). Abraham, who sits on the House Ag Committee, explains that farmers in the fifth district tell him that the EPA is a thorn in their side.

“We are having to fight tooth-and-nail to not allow them to make a pond a puddle, a ditch something they want to control,” Abraham said. “The Fifth District I represent is the largest row-crop district in the nation, so I have got to be very vigilant for our farmers and I’ve got to be very good for them.”

Similarly, Rep. Graves intends to educate other members of congress in an attempt to protect the interests of farmers and families who grow several unique crops.

“We have to reach out to other members of congress and explain to them the importance of these industries and help to open up other opportunities for those farmers to sell their crops not only in the United States but around the world,” Graves said.

Grain Marketer Christy Ingram sells crops around the world. Ingram hopes to convince 4th District Congressman John Fleming to expand markets for Louisiana rice and other grains to overseas markets such as Cuba.

“There is grain that can be bought and I have to have a market to sell it to,” Ingram said. “The markets currently are limited as far as truck, rail, and barge and if we were able to have more opportunity to sell that crop we could better opportunities for the growers.”

Creating new opportunities for growers prefaced the meeting with freshmen Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) who defeated long-time Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Grain producer Josh Moore said he sought relief from an expansion of defined water bodies included in the Clean Water Act.

“‘Navigable waters’” is kind of a loose definition and the EPA is trying to control all water sources,” Moore said. “We have breaks, ditches, ponds, and sloughs that run through our property. They are not necessarily navigable, but if the EPA has their way—who knows? They may classify them as that and what are we to do when they control our water and water structures?”

Louisiana young farmers and ranchers met with every member of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation or their staff over a two-day and half day visit to Capitol Hill.

In a meeting at Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) office in Washington, D.C., the YF&R group shared their concerns on a number of agricultural issues such as the federal guest worker programs, the estate tax, and the farm bill. Vitter, who sits on the Senate Judiciary and Banking Committees, says he will focus on Louisiana agriculture in his bid for the governor’s mansion.

“Just a few weeks ago in my governor’s campaign I had a leadership forum on the ag economy in Alexandria,” Vitter said. “I invited leaders from all around the state. About 25 were in the room for a really good discussion about how we support and expand that really important part of our economy.”

According to published reports, Vitter has raised more campaign funds than the other Republican candidates for governor. Voters will decide the governor’s race on October 24.

Michael Danna, Long-Time Ag Journalist, TV host, Dies at 54

Michael Danna, director of public relations for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and host of the organization’s long-running agricultural television program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture” died Friday, March 6, 2015, in Baton Rouge. He was 54.

Mike is survived by his loving wife Rene’e Hafford Danna of Port Allen; two children, Chase Michael Danna and Taylor Lynn Danna, both of St. Francisville; his mother, Amelia Danna of Baker; one sister, Tammy Danna of Zachary; his “Nannie,” aunt Rose Marie Danna of Baker and two step sons, Nicholas LaCour of Port Allen and Dillon Couvillon of Astoria, NY. He is preceded in death by his father, Nicky Danna of Baker and his maternal and paternal grandparents, Nicholas and Lelia Soulier of Rougon and Tony and Katie Danna of Baker.

Although he never smoked, Mike was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June of 2012, followed by a leukemia diagnosis in May 2014. Danna continued to work through much of his illness, traveling to Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama in early 2014 to cover the LSU AgCenter’s AgLeadership Development Program’s international tour there. In January of 2015 Mike and the TWILA Team of reporters kicked off the TV program’s new season by broadcasting from the San Diego Zoo. San Diego was the site of the most recent annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Born May 26, 1960, Mike was raised in Baker and was a 1978 graduate of Baker High. During his college years he wrote for his hometown newspaper, “The Observer,” as well as the LSU student newspaper, “The Daily Reveille.” He also free-lanced for “The Advocate.”

In 1983 he graduated from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and was hired by Gannett as a governmental reporter and political writer for “The News-Star-World” in Monroe. In June 1985 he left the newspaper to become the editor of “The Louisiana Farm Bureau News,” the official publication of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation in Baton Rouge. 

It was there Mike was introduced to the organization’s long-running TV program “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture,” or TWILA as it was known, created by Regnal Wallace. Mike would report for the show for the next 12 years, after which he was named PR director for the Farm Bureau and anchor of TWILA following Wallace’s retirement in 1997. 

During Mike’s tenure the TWILA Team of reporters would cover agricultural news from 15 countries on four continents and broadcast or report farm news stories from 27 U.S. states. TWILA is watched each week by more than 400,000 viewers on 19 affiliate stations across Louisiana. It is seen across the nation via satellite on the farm news network “RFD-TV” in Nashville.

Over his career Mike and the TWILA Team would garner six Telly Awards for excellence in television reporting. Mike was particularly proud of the October 2011 show produced over 10 days from Turkey, and of TWILA’s coverage of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Louisiana’s farmers and ranchers in 2005. In 2010 Mike’s report, “Katrina: Five Years Later,” won him a Telly Award for best news reporting by an independent television program. 

In addition to his television reporting, Mike was a contributing writer to numerous news and farm publications, including The Advocate, Mid-South Farmer and Progressive Farmer magazines. In 2001 the Baton Rouge Advertising Federation named Mike “Communications Manager of the Year.” In 2008, he was named “Marketer of the Year” by the Baton Rouge chapter of Sales and Marketing Executives International. In 2011, the Public Relations Association of Louisiana named Danna “Communicator of the Year.” Mike will be inducted into the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications Hall of Fame this fall. Mike is a 2004 graduate of the LSU AgCenter’s “Agricultural Leadership Development Program.”

Mike and the entire Danna family would like to thank Dr. Gerald Miletello and the physicians and staff of the Hematology/Oncology Clinic for their love, care and compassion over the last two-and-a-half years. Thanks also to the physicians and staff of the Pennington Cancer Center. 

Family and friends will gather for a memorial service in Mike’s honor, Saturday, March 14, 2015 from 8:00 - 11:00 AM. Eulogy will begin at 11:00 AM at Baker Funeral Home, 6401 Groom Road in Baker. In lieu of flowers, the Danna family has asked that contributions be made in his name to benefit a scholarship to be established. Donations can be made online at www.lsufoundation.org or via check payable to LSU Foundation, in memory of Mike Danna in the notation line and mailed to LSU Foundation, 3838 West Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 or to Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, www.cancerservices.org