Mike Strain discusses hurricane-related issues with farmers Wednesday

By: CARISSA HEBERT

Managing Editor

Crops in Evangeline Parish and options for local farmers were discussed at the Ville Platte Rice Drier Wednesday morning, September 10, with Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain DVM.

Strain said every crop in the state has been affected at a time when many farmers are harvesting or beginning to harvest. He estimates the direct losses to the agriculture industry to total $450 billion. Under the present Farm Bill, there are limited resources for disasters. He said there would not be enough money appropriated for this disaster and money would not be seen by farmers until October 2009. Strain said it was important for Washington to appropriate more money for farmers and bring those dollars here immediately. He encouraged farmers to maintain good records, take pictures of their damage, make notes and apply for FEMA and FSA assistance. He reminded farmers a deadline of September 16, is quickly approaching for USDA’s crop disaster program.

“We’re here to help you; give us a call,” he said. “Our phones are back up.” (Call 225-922-1234 or email him at mikestrain@ldaf.state.la.us or commissioner@ldaf.state.)

Next week, Strain will be meeting with President George Bush and our other congressional leaders to ask for more money for farmers. He’s asked Governor Bobby Jindal to request a formal declaration of disaster from Washington.

Lots of questions were fielded by Strain on issues faced by local farmers concerning crop insurance, sales taxes on equipment, unharvested crops in the field and damage to equipment and buildings.

Richard Fontenot, Farm Bureau president, told Strain he believed the crop loss estimates were very conservative compared to what he was hearing from the community. He also said the effects on crops like crawfish would not be known for some time.

Strain explained preliminary numbers were being conservative, but he did believe the loss would be between $750 million to one billion when everything was calculated. He said there were many crops not harvested and if they were able to harvest, it would be slow down the harvesting process, cost more fuel and the quality would decrease. He believed the damage totals were going to be higher than the initial indicators.

Robert Helmer, FSA county executive director, said only one percent of the parish had signed up for the crop disaster program. (The deadline is Tuesday, September 16.) He said farmers who operate in different parishes must sign-up for this program in each parish.

“If you don’t sign-up, you could be ineligible for anything that comes up,” Strain said.

The mosquito problem was discussed. One farmer mentioned he had a bull die on this particular morning. He had spoken to the OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness) office for assistance. He asked if Stain’s office could assist in this matter.

After the meeting, Keith Fontenot, parish chairman for the Louisiana Extension Office in this parish, said he, Helmer and Randy Soileau had surveyed the parish Tuesday. When asked if it was bad, he replied, “It is. It’s very bad.”

Fontenot said there’s a lot of rice down. The wind either took the tops off or laid it down. The top of the rice crop is what is harvested. If it’s laying down and not in water, then some damage has been done to the crop but it might still be able to be harvested. The problem is quality and quantity come into play in regards to what a farmer will make off the crop. The weather is also important because as long as it’s dry and low humidity, the farmer has a chance to harvest what’s left. If it’s hot and wet, the farmer’s crops may begin to sprout and regrowth will occur.

In the area of cotton, only 45 acres have been harvested in the parish and 400 acres remain. The wind blew the actual cotton off the plant in some cases, Fontenot said. It’s on the ground and re-sprouting. The soybeans are laid over and some have water on them. Sweet potato harvest hasn’t been started, so it will depend on if the crop has rotted due to the excessive rain and warm weather.

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