Strain sees opportunity for exports

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Dr. Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner, was elected by his peers to the leadership position of the National Association of State Agriculture Commissioner last October. That position has placed Dr. Strain in a leadership position in agriculture and forestry on the national level.

The Piney Woods Journal recently talked with Dr. Strain on two separate occasions including at the 27th Annual Florida Parishes Forestry Forum on March 17. "We have so many wonderful trade opportunities with Cuba before us but we also have issues on the state and national level that we have deal with on a daily basis," the Commissioner said.

"With the upcoming Louisiana Legislative Session, I know that we are dealing with more budget cuts," Commissioner Strain explained. "That is the in the back of my mind all the time because I know it will happen, and I will have to try to figure out how to make budget cuts that won't devastate the Department."

"I've never had a year that I haven't had to make budget cuts since I've been in his office during the past nine years. I don't think I could handle a year without mid-year budget cuts but I certainly would like to see how a stable budget year would work."

However, Commissioner Strain's focus at the Florida Parish Forum was on rules concerning the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). "If the EPA has their way, their proposed Rules would devastate Agriculture and Forestry. The EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers have basically teamed up in this effort to control the ground water run-off."

"The EPA started out under the 1972 Clean Water Act to control what went into navigable waters in the USA. Now they want to control the ground water that runs into a creek barely big enough to float a pirogue. Imagine the land mass that has streams that make up the Mississippi River. I think there are over 7,000 streams that drain water into the Mississippi River system. Being able to control flow of water in this large area is in the heart of American Agriculture and Forestry."

Mike Strain arrived on the Louisiana political scene in 2000 as a Republican State Representative for House District 74 centered in St. Tammany Parish. Dr. Strain is a Veterinarian by education and profession and a rancher by trade. His wife, Susan is also a Veterinarian and together they operate Claiborne Hill Vet Clinic in Covington. Before entering politics, Dr. Strain was involved in the Louisiana Farm Bureau in a leadership position and was active in the Louisiana Cattlemen's Association.

Dr. Strain was one of the first Louisiana elected officials to visit Cuba. What he saw in his visit to Cuba was a huge opportunity for Louisiana businesses to export products to Cuba, including timber products.

"The opportunity for Louisiana products going into Cuba is staggering," Dr. Strain explained. "They need everything. But we must act fast to take advantage of our opportunity in Cuba."

"Our Louisiana ports are only two travel days by ship to Cuba. The old port facilities in Havana are being turned into a cruise ship port. Visitors from all over the world are flocking to Cuba so the tourist industry is doing great." "A group from Singapore has come to Cuba and is spending $20 billion on a gigantic state of the art shipping port. I've seen it up close. It is impressive. It is being built to accommodate what are called the PANMAX ships that can now travel through the expanded Panama Canal."

"Louisiana and the south are sitting in the best position in Agriculture and Forestry that they have ever had," Avery Davidson, TV and documentary film producer for the Louisiana Farm Bureau. told the PWJ. "We have the Chairman of the USA Commissioners of Agriculture in Dr. Strain."

"The Secretary of Agriculture-to-be, Sonny Perdue is from Georgia and the President of the American Farm Bureau (AFB) is from Georgia and our own President of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, Ronnie Anderson is on the Board of Directors of the AFB.

So instead of the Midwest states being in key positions nationally, we have people who better understand what is best in Agriculture and Forestry of our Region."

Dr. Strain was quick to point out that national politics could present a problem for Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry trade with Cuba. "At least I now have a seat at the table on the national level. I will certainly be vocal in expressing my desire for wide open trade with Cuba."

In conclusion, Dr. Strain emphasized: "I have a great passion for Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry. I have, in my opinion, the best job in Louisiana. Now that I'm able to represent Louisiana better on the national level, I am very optimistic that our Agriculture and Forestry sector will see steady improvement in the years to come."