Although Louisiana farmers began 2008 with the highest agriculture prices in history on Wall Street, things have changed, according to Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain.

 




Although Louisiana farmers began 2008 with the highest agriculture prices in history on Wall Street, things have changed, according to Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain.
Two new Louisiana hurricanes causing $1 billion in damage, followed by a 50-year snow storm, and depressed national economy have brought state farmers “a tough time,” Strain told members of the Rotary Club of Gonzales during the recent club meeting.


“Agriculture is contracting in Louisiana,” Strain said.


This year the state lost $1 billion out of its annual $20 billion agriculture industry. “If we don’t do something, agriculture in Louisiana could become a $15 billion industry,” he said.


The times are especially hard for farmers who plant high risk products and must borrow from banks on those crops each year. Making low interest loans available to farmers is critical to the industry, Strain said.


Like other state agencies agriculture and forestry faces budget cuts in the wake of the economic downturn, Strain said.


On top of $4.3 million already cut this year, Strain was asked the day before he addressed Rotarians to slice another $2 million this year.


“Next year, we’re looking at about a $14 million cut,” he said.


The commissioner believes Louisiana’s budget which grew from $18 million four years ago to $32 billion last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina federal funding and rebuilding efforts is no longer growing.


“I think we are now on the ride down,” Strain said.


To stop the tailspin in Louisiana and agriculture, corn and oil prices will have to rise, he said.


For farmers to make it the price of corn has to go above $3.80 per bushel, and oil must bounce bank at about $80 per barrel for the state to balance its books without cutting services.
Strain predicted both commodities would rise to those levels next year.


In a wide-ranging presentation, Strain recapped the status of his department one-year after his election victory over controversial former commissioner Bob Odom.


His department has 750 full-time employees and a total of 915 with part-timers included.  There were over 1,000 employees when Strain began his term.


“We have downsized,” he said.


One of his accomplishments has been helping set up a trust fund for farmers who lose their crop when grain elevator operators along the Mississippi fail and go out of business.


The commissioner also touted Louisiana food products, which he said are desired by people around the world because the are safe, affordable and state producers regularly get their goods to market.