Tradition makes Northeast Louisiana mostly farming country. But low prices and changes in the economy are forcing farmers to find other means of paying their bills.

Tourism could be one answer.

That's what Barbara Roy, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of Tourism, told farmers and other landowners at a Technical-Financial Expo in Rayville, La., this summer.

The event, hosted by the LSU AgCenter, was designed to show landowners how they can turn more of a profit with marginally productive land. And Roy said tourism has made a strong showing in northeast Louisiana in recent years.

“Tourism is as much of an industry as any other industry,” Roy said. “Last year (2000), more than $259 million was spent by travelers to northeastern Louisiana.”

More than $44 million of that spending was attributed to salaries and wages to some 2,550 people directly employed within the travel and tourism industry, according to Roy, who said direct spending by travelers provided $13.5 million to state's tax coffers and almost $7 million to local tax coffers.

“From this you see that tourism can be very profitable,” she said.

Also speaking at the expo was Howard Gryder, retired LSU AgCenter district agent. Gryder spoke on a newly formed landowners' group — Delta Outdoors and Wildlife Association. This association was formed to assist landowners in marketing their recreational enterprises and promoting the development of existing resources such as wildlife, water, land and other existing resources.

“Traditionally, this has been cotton area,” said Gryder, speaking about northeast Louisiana. “And while some acres produce a lot of cotton, there are those that don't produce anything. With the right management scheme, this marginal land could be profitable again.”

LSU AgCenter forester Steve Hotard, who helped to organize the expo, said some of the driving factors behind the event are the economic concerns that are leading agricultural producers to look for other uses for the land.

“We have a lot to offer here in north Louisiana as far as tourism goes,” Hotard said. “I believe we can have a profitable industry going if we all pull together.”

For more information on how to turn marginal land into profitable land, contact Hotard at 318-644-5865.

Exhibitors at the expo included the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Resource Conservation and Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and its Farm Service Agency, the LSU AgCenter, wildlife consultant Dan Dennet, wildlife consultant Walter Dennis, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl Foundation, Delta Outdoors and Wildlife Association, Louisiana Land Bank and First South PCA.