Strain says 2018 was tough for ag/forestry

By:James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

The year 2018 has been a tough one for most of us in Agriculture and Forestry, Commissioner of Agrculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain acknowledged to the Piney Woods Journal in a recent interview. "The soybean farmers have faced the most difficult times through the tariffs placed on soybeans by the Chinese."

"We are close to getting a good trade agreement with the Chinese that will be very rewarding for the soybean farmers. However, that doesn't take away from the struggle they are now facing. I'm concerned that many of our soybean farmers will not be able to pay back their 2018 crop loans. They don't have many options unless they have the financial resources to pledge additional collateral on their loans."

" I am working very hard to try and help our soybean farmers, but when the Chinese market went away this year due to the tariffs, we lost a trading partner who was buying 50% of the entire U.S. soybean crop every year," the Commissioner, who is still a practicing Veternarian in Covington explained. "That is a difficult obstacle to overcome in the short-term; but when the Chinese come back to our market, soybean farming will be better than ever."

"I expect to see some diversification with our Louisiana farmers with a little more emphasis on corn and cotton than soybeans. The soybean problem is short-term but it is hurting us now. I'm really pleased with our new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. It is much more favorable than the NAFTA agreement was to our Agriculture and Forest industry."

"I've always said, and still believe firmly that before any country can be great it must first be a nation great in agriculture. Our country was a great nation in agriculture and forestry before its people forgot where their food and clothing and lumber to build houses came from. If you have had three good meals today, thank a farmer. If you are inside a warm house in this cold weather, thank a forest landowner and the foresters who managed the timbers and the loggers who harvested the timber and got it to the mills."

"I'm so passionate about my job as Commissioner, that I somewhat surprise myself on how eager I am each morning to get up and hit the ground running to help meet the challenges our industry is facing, Commissioner Strain emphasized. Through a lot of hard work, implementing successful programs in Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry, and networking all over the country, I now have a seat at the table on the national level to best represent Louisiana in our most important industry in the state."

" I was in Eunice earlier today (Nov. 13) at the expansion ceremony of Riceland Crawfish Company. This company got its start in 1984 selling crawfish out of the back of a pickup. Today, they announced a $3 million expansion, $2 million on their facilities and $1 million on new equipment."

" The main facility is their sub-zero storage building which will actually allow us to have crawfish boils all year long. Riceland Crawfish will have their products in 900 Walmart Stores around the country. This will really spread Cajun Cuisine far from the borders of Louisiana. Plus this expansion will create 10 permanent jobs and 30-40 seasonal jobs in the Eunice area."

" Expansion of our existing agriculture and forestry manufacturing facilities I think is a real integral part of our success in the coming years," Commissioner Strain stated. I know that the forest industry in Louisiana, especially in Southeast Louisiana needs a new saw mill operation."

"I'm committed to make a new sawmill operation a reality in Southeast Louisiana and I can safely say, the Governor is also committed to seeing this happen also. I compliment Warren Peters and Dennis Aucoin in particular and many others in the Forest Industry for having the foresight to begin pushing this concept of one or more new sawmills."

"Prices that landowners receive for their timber seems to be at an all-time low or near it but the prices of lumber is very high. Louisiana is missing out on a very lucrative market simply because we don't have enough sawmills to process the timber we are growing at our awesome rate. Also, because we haven't had the capacity to handle our timber in recent years, the trees just keep getting bigger and bigger. We need a sawmill that can cut the larger trees which hasn't been a focus of the Louisiasna sawmill industry in recent years."

"I'm very pleased to see Hunt Forest Products build their new mill in LaSalle parish, Commissioner Strain noted. This mill was very much needed in north central Louisiana. We need the same type mill in Southeast Louisiana."

Louisiana's forestlands cover 48% of the state's area or 13.8 million acres. Private, non-industrial landowners own 62 percent of the state's forestland, forest products industries own 29 percent and the general public owns 9 percent. This renewable resource provides the raw material for Louisiana's second largest manufacturing employer the forest products industry with over 900 firms in 45 parishes directly employing over 25,000 people.

An additional 8,000 people are employed in the harvesting and transportation of the resource. Louisiana's forests provide a multitude of other benefits, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty.

Agriculture and forestry is a nearly $13 billion industry in Louisiana. According to the LSU AgCenter, the average age of a farmer is 58. Louisiana consists of 22,684,083 acres in agricultural and forestry land. The average size of a Louisiana farm is 291 acres. Most Louisiana farms (87.3%) are family farms. The average land holding by a timber owner is 68 acres.

"We celebrated the farmer on October 12 for National Farmers Day, but we should celebrate the farmer every day," Commissioner Strain emphasized.

"As our population grows, the job of the farmer logger becomes increasingly more demanding. Their hours continue to be long and the farmer and logger is often at the mercy of environmental challenges such as droughts, excessive rain and or flooding, to even freezing temperatures which can damage a Agriculture crops and timber. Don't forget where your food and lumber comes from and if you know a farmer or logger, make sure you let him or her know how much you appreciate them."

"The future is bright for Louisiana's Agriculture and Forestry industries, Commissioner Strain added. It may not be easy because both industries are not appreciated by the general public and some lawmakers, but the individual members of our two industries are used to dealing with very difficult challenges."