By Kane Webb, USA Rice
It has been quite some time since a Louisiana Governor and a Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture toured the state together. In fact, on Friday, Governor John Bel Edwards told the crowd gathered at R&N Farms here that it hasn't happened since the days of Earl K. Long when candidates ran as a ticket back in the 1930s.
Richard and Neil Fontenot, with the help of their family and friends, transformed their equipment shop into a 150 seat auditorium for the event. This stop, part of the Governor and Commissioner's Agricultural and Forestry Listening Tour, focused predominantly on rice and the rice industry, and rice growers from across the state attended, offering input and listening to the responses given by Edwards and Strain on questions covering a wide variety of important issues.
Jackie Loewer, a rice grower from Acadia parish, thanked both Edwards and Strain for their leadership and support on agriculture issues, including the recent sale of rice to Iraq. Both expressed the key role of Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham, and how important it will be for everyone to work together, to continue promoting the state's agriculture products.
"Of the $13 billion agriculture contributes to Louisiana's annual economy, almost $9 billion is due to exports," said Commissioner Strain. "That's a number that will continue to grow, as the demand to feed the world is projected to increase over the next several years."
Issues ranged from workforce program obstacles growers face throughout the growing season to infrastructural improvements needed to increase the efficiency of marketing opportunities. Discussions also included exemptions that support the agriculture industry and specific instances related to disadvantages faced by Louisiana farmers compared with farmers in other states.Christian Richard, a rice grower in Vermilion parish, explained "it's frustrating to know we're faced with paying additional costs on electricity for our drying operations, along with peak demand charges, while growers in our neighboring states don't have these same costs." Both Edwards and Strain committed to working with the Louisiana Farm Bureau, and other organizations, in opening a dialogue with the Public Service Commission for resolution options.
The morning session ended with Governor Edwards and Commissioner Strain thanking everyone for taking the time to attend. "This was something we had planned for last year, but the circumstances with flooding disasters around the state had other plans," Strain explained. "If possible, we would like to continue listening sessions like this to get feedback in the future."