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|Strain explains $1 billion loss in ag industry|
Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain said state leaders will continue to fight for funding to help Louisiana farmers who suffered losses at the hands of this summer's hurricanes.
Louisiana faced the greatest agricultural natural disaster when hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the state, Strain said.
Strain, who spoke last week at Monroe Rotary Club, said never before has the state's farmers, ranchers and fishers faced such a challenge.
"When we look at the amount of damages and what happened, first you look at Tropical Storm Faye," Strain said. "Faye came through here in northeast Louisiana, adding 20 inches of rain. We asked for and did not receive a presidential declaration of disaster for Faye."
"Within a week, Gustav came, bringing high winds and high water through the southern part of the state," Strain continued. "It went through central Louisiana and right through here, bringing more water and unprecedented flooding."
Following the hurricanes, a decision was made to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., to meet with the state's congressional delegation to request funding for the state's agricultural industry.
They were told that federal assistance may not be available for farmers until fall 2009.
"That's not going to work," Strain said. "We need some initial capital now. Louisiana needs $500 million right now."
State leaders also tried to have an amendment authorizing assistance for farmers attached to legislation that provided a bailout for the financial sector. The amendment for agriculture interests failed to materialize.
"We were able to secure $22.9 billion for all of the affected states, but there was not money specifically for agriculture," Strain said.
He said the state will continue to fight to secure funding to specifically help farmers. Strain plans on returning to Congress in November to ask for funding. If that request is denied, Strain said he will return when the new Congress takes office in January.
Strain believes Gov. Bobby Jindal will be able to use some of Louisiana's share of $6.5 billion in flexible Community Development Block grants to help local farmers.
"We don't know what Louisiana's share is, but I've asked for $200 million of that money so we can put an immediate cash infusion into our agricultural business," he said.
Among the hardest hit in terms of total lost revenue were soybeans, cotton, aquaculture and fisheries, timber, sugarcane, corn, rice, sweet potatoes and shrimp.
Concerning lost revenue in various segments, soybeans appeared to be the hardest hit, with approximately $153 million in lost revenue on the year.
According to LSU AgCenter economists, other losses include cotton, $137 million; timber, $92 million; sugarcane, $87 million; corn, $66 million; rice, $34 million; sweet potatoes, $34 million; and shrimp, $31 million.
"Over a $1 billion worth of damage," Strain said.
Strain met with farmers throughout the state following the storm to determine how to address their problems.
"From those meetings, we had a number of issues that kept coming up consistently," Strain explained. "This situation happened right at harvest time. It hit at the worst possible time … at a time in the year where we were looking at record profits. What happens when you see record profits coming? You invest record money. They did everything they could do to maximize the yields, and all of a sudden they get hit."
Besides damaged crops, farmers have been hit hard with rising diesel cost. Fertilizer cost also has risen by almost 400 percent over the past several years, Strain said.