Details of the $44.5 million Louisiana Farm and Agribusiness Recovery Grant and Loan Program were unveiled at the recent annual Farm Bureau convention in New Orleans.

Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, said the funds are earmarked for eligible Louisiana farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses that suffered damages from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

“Louisiana agricultural producers suffered tremendous losses following hurricanes Gustav and Ike and these programs will provide a much needed boost,” Strain said. “The LDAF has been working with the expert assistance of the LRA to develop these programs. Our goal is to get aid into the hands of Louisiana’s producers and agribusinesses as fast as possible.”

“After suffering tremendous loses following hurricanes Gustav and Ike, pushing down recovery funds directly to the agricultural community is extremely important,” said Paul Rainwater, Louisiana Recovery Authority executive director. “We are thankful that the federal government understands the challenges farmers faced after being hit by four storms since 2005.

“This is the first time Community Development Block Grant funds will be spent on agricultural programs, and we look forward to working with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry in delivering millions of dollars to farmers to aid their recovery.”

The application period for the program is July 13 through Aug. 21.

Completed applications must be postmarked or hand delivered and date stamped to a LDAF district office no later than 5 p.m., Aug. 21.

Strain said the grant and loan plan is essentially two programs.

The Farm Recovery Program is designed to help farmers and ranchers affected by the 2008 hurricanes with their 2009 production costs through a 20 percent grant and 80 percent low-interest loan process.

The Agribusiness Recovery Program provides low-interest loans for agribusinesses like aerial applicators, cotton gins and elevators. “All together there is $34.5 million available to producers and $10 million available to agribusinesses,” Strain said.

The funds will be administered through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority office (LAFA).

“Many farmers put every nickel they had or could borrow into their crops only to lose up to three-fourths of their investment,” Strain said. “We cannot allow our farmers to be faced with the choice of being forced to plant a significantly smaller crop or going out of business.”

More than 76 percent of the cotton, 73 percent of the sweet potato crop and 10 percent of sugarcane were lost due to the storms, Strain said. Other commodities suffered significant losses as well.

The two programs are funded using CDBG funds, which the LRA set aside for aid to the agriculture industry after it suffered great losses in the aftermath of the 2008 storms. In total, Louisiana received more than $1 billion in CDBG funding for recovery, most of which the state has allocated for individual parish recovery activities.

Funds are only available to farms and agribusinesses that suffered damages from hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The program has been designed not to duplicate benefits of USDA programs, which traditionally have been available to the farming community.

Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana Farm Bureau president, said his organization welcomed the announcement of the loan program. Anderson, along with Strain, LSU AgCenter Chancellor William Richardson and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, traveled to Washington in the weeks after Hurricane Gustav to seek federal assistance for farmers hard hit by the storm.

“Many Louisiana producers thought they were going to get nothing,” Anderson said. “The hurricane last year brought a lot of financial hardships to many of our farmers and ranchers. We hope this program will help them as we approach harvest this year.”

The funds are divided between eight disaster relief regions based on the agricultural losses from the 2008 hurricanes.

• Region 1 — $430,605 — Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany parishes.

• Region 2 — $5,876,363 — Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Tangipahoa, St. Helena, Washington, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana parishes.

• Region 3 — $3,155,632 — Assumption, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, Terrebonne parishes.

• Region 4 — $5,954,236 — Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Vermilion parishes.

• Region 5 — $3,385,705 — Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis parishes.

• Region 6 — $10,901,410 — Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, Grant, LaSalle, Rapides, Vernon, Winn parishes.

• Region 7 — $227,423 — Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, Desoto, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine, Webster parishes.

• Region 8 — $14,568,622 — Caldwell, East Carroll, Franklin, Jackson, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union, West Carroll parishes.

Application packets may be picked up at LDAF regional and Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation parish offices as well as LSU AgCenter county agent offices. The applications are also available online at www.ldaf.la.gov.

For more information, contact an office in your area. The office locations and phone numbers are as follows: Region 1 - Hammond, (985) 543-4057; Regions 2 and 3 - Baton Rouge, (225) 922-1277; Region 4 - Opelousas, (337) 948-0230; Region 5 - DeRidder, (337) 463-3537; Region 6 - Jonesville, (318) 339-7642, Woodworth, (318) 487-5172; Region 7 - Haughton, (318) 949-3225; Region 8 - Monroe, (318) 345-7595, Oak Grove, (318) 428-0116, Winnsboro, (318) 435-2185.