by Allie Doise, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
Congress passed $500 million in federal flood disaster relief for Louisiana in a last-minute continuing resolution last week to keep the government from shutting down on October 1st, but it's not clear if any of that money will go to help Louisiana farmers recover.
The latest estimate released by the LSU AgCenter totals agricultural losses from both the March and August floods at $367 million. The continuing resolution (CR) would yield $500 million as a ‘down payment,’ with the $2.1 billion remaining to possibly come in an omnibus spending bill in December. Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said that might not be enough, even if all the aid arrives intact.
“We are grateful for our Congressional delegation and state officials who have fought to get this passed,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, the ag damage may amount to more than the bill provides. That money is for the state as a whole. Also, we only really have preliminary estimates, even for the spring flooding. The actual cost may go much higher.”
Ralph Abraham, 5th district representative, shared Anderson’s concern.
“My concern is that agriculture in the CR money does come up short,” Abraham said. “That’s not acceptable. We need to continue to push, because we all know how important agriculture is, not only in the Fifth District, but in the entire state of Louisiana.”
Abraham is among the congressmen fighting for funding in D.C. He said one problem they are facing in Washington is the lack of knowledge on the events, which may hamper getting some or all of the money the state is requesting.
“People see the green fields, they see the combines and the cotton pickers in the field and they assume everything is just fine,” Abraham said. “Well, it’s not. This is the message that we as a delegation, certainly myself, will continue to relay the message that this is not over. Damage is still being assessed and until the first of the year, we’re not going to really know how much agriculture has been affected.”
Meanwhile Louisiana state officials are working with lawmakers to get the funding Louisiana needs to rebuild. Prior to the vote on the CR, Governor John Bel Edwards traveled to Washington, D.C., to personally ask for federal aid. Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of agriculture and forestry, was also on that trip.
“I am working closely with Governor John Bel Edwards to secure funding and assistance for our agricultural producers. The flooding throughout much of South Louisiana impacted the production and quality of our crops,” said Strain. “Unfortunately, this is the second rain event to impact our farmers this year. In March, the LSU AgCenter estimated $90 million in damages from a similar rainfall event that caused widespread flooding in North Louisiana. Livestock and infrastructure losses plus an increase in production costs were the result of that weather event.”
Strain said the main goal for agricultural recovery is to get enough money back in these communities where farmers can get back on their feet.
“Our initial ask is for $50 million from the Office of Community Development through Housing and Urban Development,” Strain said. “To a program similar to what we did after Gustav and Ike. That will be an addition to what’s available in the Farm Bill and crop insurance.”
Strain said farmers and ranchers’ recovery is also a vital part to the state’s recovery.
“If you look at the agricultural losses they are significant,” Strain said. “And that’s our largest industry in the state. It’s important we get everyone back in business or it’s going to have a severe impact to the economy of the state and the long-term health of the state.”
Abraham said one of his concerns going forward is people will forget, especially in agriculture when the damage isn’t as obvious.
“In agriculture opposed to residential areas, you may have piled up carpet and sheetrock that serves as a constant reminder,” Abraham said. “In agriculture we don’t have that. Somebody simply driving by a field might think that crop looks great, but I know as a farmer myself that’s not true.”
Strain said he is hopeful that lawmakers in Washington will provide Louisiana with the relief that is needed.
“I think at the end of the day the American people are very responsive,” Strain said. “Anytime any part of this country has been laid low by natural disaster or whether its war or whatever — they stand up together and we pull together and we stand the country back up, and that’s why we’re asking for help.”
Anderson echoed Strain’s sentiment and said it’s a matter of national interest to help farmers during times of crisis.
“We grow the food and fiber that keep this country going,” he said. “It’s that simple. We don’t ever want to get into a situation of being dependent on other countries to grow it for us. This isn’t just disaster aid we’re asking for, it’s an investment our future.”