Agriculture 'doing good'
Farm Bill may be 'History,' says Anderson

by James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"Agriculture is doing pretty good these days, especially in Louisiana," Ronnie Anderson, longtime president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation told the Piney Woods Journal during a recent visit to his farm near Ethel, Louisiana.

"However, dark clouds are never very far away from people in Agriculture," Anderson acknowledged. "Too much rain or too little rain or even rain at the wrong time can turn things in agriculture on a dime, into an unfavorable position. Not only do we have the concern of the weather, but other natural disasters to contend with in addition to market prices for our products."

"For decades there has been a federal safety net in the form of the Farm Bill to help us through rough times in Agriculture,", Anderson, who is also on the Executive Committee of the 6 million member American Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out.

"However, the Farm Bills as we have known them are probably history," Anderson, an LSU graduate noted. "Everyone in Agriculture would like to see the new Farm Bill be the same as the last one but that is not going to happen. Changes are on the horizon that could severely damage US Agriculture in the long run," Anderson explained. "Without a safety net to guard the farmer against natural disasters, spiraling fuel costs, and sudden drops in commodity prices, two things will happen, both bad."

"First, farmers would not be able to produce enough low cost food to meet demand, and secondly, our equipment and operating financing would dry up," Anderson, who is the third generation of his family to operate the farm in Ethel, elaborated.

"Today, farmers and ranchers have an enormous amount of money tied up in their operations and need readily available financing to carry us from season to season,'' Anderson, who with his father, Roy, operated a dairy on the Anderson farm prior to 1978 pointed out.

"Without the federal safety net that we have had in previous Farm Bills, farm lenders are going to become very reluctant to take so much risks,'' Anderson, who once row crop farmed over 3,000 acres predicted.

"On the other hand, farmers themselves are going to become very reluctant to lay their whole financial wellbeing on the line gambling that they can go from planting season to harvest season without a natural disaster and commodities prices staying firm,'' Anderson acknowledged.

"There are many misconceptions by the general public and many politicians as to what the Farm Bill actually does for Agriculture,'' Anderson, a former high school teacher for two years explained.

"Agriculture has taken some bad public relation hits in recent years from wealthy investors and part-time farmers taking advantage of provisions of the Farm Bill that were intend to protect the livelihood of true American farmers, not be tax-loop holds for absentee investors or part-time farmers'' Anderson stated.

"Most people do not know that only 14% of the Farm Bill budget makes up the financial safety net for the farmers,'' Anderson emphasized. "The Food Stamp program and other social programs take up most of the budget in the Farm Bill.''

"I think that it is safe to say that direct payments to farmers won't be included in the new Farm Bill,'' Anderson said. "There may be enhanced crop insurance and a safety net for "shallow loss" or "long loss" provisions in the next Farm Bill.''

"I think that we are looking at cuts in the $23 to $30 billion range in budgets cuts in the new Farm Bill,'' Anderson said. "The so-called Super Committee that made recommendations on budget cuts and deficit reduction recommended $23 billion in cuts for the next Farm Bill.''

"Taking budget cuts in the Farm Bill is nothing new for us,'' Anderson admitted. "We have seen budget cuts to farmers for the last ten years.''

"Basically in Washington you have a situation where by Republicans are budget sensitive and the Democrats are regulatory sensitive,'' Anderson pointed out. "If both parties get their agendas implemented, we will have budget cuts and new government regulations.''

"What is not emphasized enough is that Americans only pay about 10-11 % of their income for food, while in some countries up to 50% of their income goes to buy food,'' Anderson, who became President of the LA Farm Bureau at age 41 stated.

"This little community of Ethel is a prime example of what can happen rather quickly in agriculture fortunes,'' Anderson explained. "At one time in my lifetime, Ethel was a thriving farming community.''

"There were grain elevators, cotton gins, railroad service, a hotel, and several stores in Ethel, but today all we have left is a Post Office,'' Anderson related. "Row crops faded out when the soil could no longer support the crop yields necessary to be completive.''

"The same is true with dairies in the area,'' Anderson, who grew up milking cows noted. "In East and West Feliciana parishes there were about 30 dairies. Today there are probably not more than 4 dairies in operation in the two parishes.''

"One of the key factors in the initial success of the Louisiana Farm Bureau was our insurance program,'' Anderson acknowledged. "People living in rural areas couldn't get insurance coverage, so when our insurance companies were setup, that was an immediate attraction to the Louisiana Farm Bureau.''

"I remember as a young man, one of the Farm Bureau representatives in our area was Elmer Lolly,'' Anderson related. "When Elmer came out visiting your farm, he could either sell you insurance, or open up his car trunk and bring out the equipment to artificially inseminate your cows.''

"There are a lot of things that I am proud about our Louisiana Farm Bureau but close to the top of the list is our Young Farmers Leadership Training Program,'' Anderson emphasized. "We bring them down here to Baton Rouge when the legislature is in session so they can get firsthand experience as to how governmental policies' affecting farming are decided.''

"We do the same with some of our Young Farmers in Washington,'' Anderson explained. "There is no better way to prepare for the future in governmental affairs that affect farming and ranching than to get to know the policy makers, and how the system operates.''

Anderson began his Farm Bureau participation as most people do on the parish level. In 1970 he was elected to the East Feliciana Parish LFBF board. Later he became a District Representative and then served 4 years as 2nd Vice President which was decided on a statewide LFBF vote.

In 1989 when Ronnie Anderson was elected President of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation succeeding James Graugnard, a St. James Parish sugar cane farmer, who retired after 20 plus years as President, its membership stood at 65,000. Today membership in the LFBF, which is headquartered on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge stands at 150,000 members.

The statewide Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation (LFBF) is divided into 11 districts. Each district representative is a member of the LFBF Board along with the five officers of the LFBF. The four LFBF officers joining Anderson on the LFBF Executive Committee are Jim Harper, Scott Wiggins, Linda Zaunbrecher, and Jackie Theriot.

The eleven District Board members are Jim Marsalis, Doug Duty, William Stutts, Ronnie Owens, David Smith, Larry Lafleur, Kim Frey, Chad Hanks, Jimmy Norsworthy, Gregory Gravois, and John Landry. Denise Hymel is State Women's Committee Chairman, and Clayton Hurdle is the Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee Chairman.

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation will celebrate its 90th anniversary as the "voice of Louisiana agriculture" on June 28-July 1, 2012 at the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street.