Strain vows to fight more budget cuts
Commissioner says future of Louisiana Agricuture is endangered

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"The Department of Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry cannot afford to take anymore budget cuts from the Administration no matter what the circumstances are," Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry told the Piney Woods Journal. "Due to budget cuts in previous years, we have already reduced our staff from 1,040 people down to 540."

"The Administration wants us to cut another $280,000 out of this year's budget. We have already cut $2.6 million out of this year's budget. The Administration also wants us to cut $4 million out of next year's Department budget. It cannot be done and maintain the integrity and efficiency of the Department. I refuse to endanger the health and well-being of the people of our state because we can't oversee and regulate so many agriculture related products with no money to operate on. The Administration also wants to take our self-generated monies from fees and service we render as well as dedicated revenues."

"I'm going to take my fight over these proposed budget cuts to Ag and Forestry directly to the legislature," Commissioner Strain, a Veterinarian by education and trade, emphasized. "It is very disturbing to be faced with the threat of budget cuts to the Department when Agriculture and Forestry generates so much of the Louisiana economy."

Agriculture is the largest sector of Louisiana's economy. Agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture use more than 85 percent of the surface area of the state, and with more than 243,000 jobs, employs nearly 10 percent of our work force. At more than $30 billion, agriculture and forestry combined make up one of Louisiana's largest and most economically dependent industries.

"With the new American policy toward Cuba, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry has a great opportunity for exports in the very near future with Cuba but Louisiana will be handicapped if our budget is cut and our Department cannot fulfill its role as required by law on Ag and Forestry products. Most of the infrastructure in Cuba is in dire straits. Repairs are needed immediately which should be a boon for Louisiana Forest industry."

"I'm on my way tonight to Washington for meetings with the Secretary of States office tomorrow to fully understand what the new changes in policy toward Cuba means economically to Louisiana," Commissioner Strain related to the Journal on the evening of January 21. "I will be taking in Louisiana's Washington DC Mardi Gras festivities, but my main focus will be our meeting with the Department of State and other agencies on the opportunity to export Louisiana products to Cuba and other countries."

"Historically, 60% of exports to Cuba passed through the Port of New Orleans. I realize that much has changed in the last 60 years in Cuba. It's logical to think that history will repeat itself and Louisiana rice, poultry and lumber will be exported to Cuba in large quantities. I'm going to be right in the mix of things to make sure that Louisiana gets its fair share of the new Cuban market."

According to the LSU AgCenter's 2010 Ag Summary, Louisiana agriculture and forestry contributed more than $9.9 billion directly to the state's economy in 2010, an increase of over 20 percent from the year before. These gains were led by forestry and poultry, which contributed $3.1 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively.

The state of our Louisiana agricultural economy is showing impressive growth due to the perseverance and strength of Louisiana farmers, ranchers, foresters and landowners. Nationally, Louisiana ranks second in the production of aquaculture and sugarcane, third in rice production and milling, fourth in sweet potatoes, and sixth in grain sorghum.

When asked about the effect the dramatic drop in oil prices has had on Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry in Louisiana, Commissioner strain had this to say: "Other than the State Budget problems caused by the drop in oil prices, the reduction in the cost of fuel has been good for farmers, loggers, and the transportation sector. I've seen figures that indicate the drop in fuel prices gives the average consumer $30-$50 more in disposable income each month. Statistics shows that the consumers are spending this extra money they have because of the drop in fuel cost."

"2014 was a good year for Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry," Commissioner Strain, a former La. State Legislator pointed out. "There may be a little less acreage in corn production in 2015 but more in beans and wheat."

"It's ironic that Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry faces so many challenges as well as opportunities but to be bogged down in budget cutting situations that threaten our very ability to do our jobs as required by law. Our real big challenge that we need to focus on is how to feed, clothe, house and provide energy to a huge projected increase in population worldwide. Louisiana is well situated to take advantage of these great opportunities for agriculture and forestry but Louisiana cannot meet these challenges and take huge budget cuts every year."

Writer's comment: For the last five or six years, I have written about the upcoming legislative session each year. What I have written each year has been the same year and year out, budget cuts and more budget cuts. The big questions is where is the money being spent and why does revenue shrink each year? Is the problem the huge tax credits and incentives that are given to multinational companies in exchange for creating a few jobs or is it just plain old politics and mismanagement of resources?