With the anticipation of Congress returning from its Memorial Day break and returning to debate on a new farm bill, several key Louisianans have provided a view of the developing legislation from their state’s perspective.  

As the 2008 farm bill was renewed for only a year, “We’re up against a September 30 deadline to get (a new farm) bill processed,” said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who held a joint press call with Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF). “The good news is the Senate version is much stronger for our rice producers than (the 2012 version). The (current) version has my full support.”

Rice, she continued, “is a very important industry for our state. It provides about $11.4 billion to our Louisiana economy and about 250,000 direct jobs according to the USDA.

“Farming is more than just a business, more than just a job. It’s a part of our culture and deserves our support. Whether it’s sugarcane and rice in south Louisiana or cotton in north Louisiana or cattle or aquaculture. We treasure our rural communities and the part that the farm bill plays in keeping them maintained and sustainable.”

Holding onto as much of the nutrition programs as possible is also important to Louisiana, she said. “In the farm bill we’ve also maintained, at least in the Senate version, a strong support for food aid for our people. It’s very important that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (is available) for children in Louisiana to have access to healthy food. More than 74 percent of the people in Louisiana that receive food aid are children…

“Forty-two percent of SNAP participants come from working families. It’s kind of hard to believe but 42 percent of families receiving food benefits have an income and are working. They just aren’t making enough money to keep food on the table.

As for conservation,  Landrieu said it “provides incentives to increase participation in conservation in protecting land and water resources. The program has been expanded in the Senate (farm bill). It’s very popular with our farmers and in rural communities as a way to preserve our precious wetlands and provide protections to our communities that are more vulnerable.”

Before turning the call over to Strain, Landrieu praised his efforts. “the Southern agriculture commissioners have a big lift on this because a lot of people on the (House and Senate Agriculture) Committees are from the Midwest. The Southern agriculture commissioners have a lot of hard politics that they must put into place to make sure they have the votes and support for Southern agriculture.”

Strain said Louisiana agriculture has grown 6.4 percent in the last year. Across the United States, agriculture is the fastest growing sector in the economy.

“Our exports are growing dramatically,” said Strain. “In Louisiana, in the first quarter, exports grew another 15.6 percent – more than double of any other state’s exports, predominantly (due to) agriculture.”

The farm bill, he said, “is absolutely critical. When you look at the 10-year farm bill and the $975 billion, there are many things that have been streamlined. The overall farm bill is less than 2 percent of the federal budget. However, the farm bill commodity programs (represent) less than one half of 1 percent of the federal budget. Yet, it drives the largest and most important sector of our overall economy.

“We will likely export $145 billion to $155 billion worth of product.

The farm bill sets not only priorities but also helps us move in a world economy.”