This session begins with lots of new faces down at the State Capitol, but the issues facing agriculture haven’t really changed over the years. Farming is still the second largest economic engine behind oil and gas here in Louisiana and sometimes even veteran lawmakers have to be reminded of that. With more than $10 billion in direct economic impact it’s hard to argue that farming and rancher matter here in the Bayou State .
Though a Regular Session and not a fiscal one, much of the Legislature’s work over the next three months will involve money. Higher education and health care are all targeted for cuts and one only need pick up a newspaper to know that things are going to be tough around the big, pointy building downtown this spring.
Part of Farm Bureau’s efforts will be to protect agriculture as much as possible. That means building coalitions with other like-minded groups when it comes to protecting things like exemptions for the purchase of farm equipment and the like. We’ll also be working to secure funding for the state’s premier research operation, the LSU AgCenter.
For decades farmers have relied on the AgCenter for much of the research that finds its way into the hands of farmers. Farmer and ranchers have benefited tremendously from research into everything from rice to sugar. It’s work that would be immediately missed if funding issues forced these programs into non-existence.
“The AgCenter has always performed above and beyond farmer expectations,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. “In order for Louisiana farmers to stay competitive we need the research produced by the AgCenter. We’ll work to keep those programs going.”
In the weeks leading up the Regular Session Farm Bureau held legislative meetings to inform both farmers and lawmakers on the issues facing agriculture this year. As the organization has done for decades, it’s never taken for granted everyone knows about agriculture.
“We travel the state talking to both farmers and members of the Legislature about what agriculture means to Louisiana ,” said Joe Mapes, legislative coordinator for the Farm Bureau. “While many already understand how important farmers and ranchers are, we’ve sometimes still got to impress upon them how laws made in Baton Rouge affect farming communities back home. It’s a constant challenge but one we have to take on every year.”
Part of Louisiana agriculture’s success not only depends on what comes out of farm fields, but also what comes out of Baton Rouge every session. Any laws that adversely impact rural Louisiana will be felt at the farm gate. Ronnie Anderson said while Louisiana farmers and ranchers had a good year in 2011, any gains made in the marketplace could be lost by restrictive state legislation.
“The lawmakers from rural areas understand this, as do many of those who represent urban areas,” Anderson said. “But right now budget times are hard. The temptation may be to let policy outweigh potential profits and that’s never good for anyone, especially right now.”