At a well-attended meeting at the farm of Al and Debbie Landry near White Castle, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mike Strain, DVM, commissioner of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry told a large group of farmers their work is crucial to the state.
There was also some jabs at Edwards over the planned new Mississippi River bridge, the result of a law introduced and pushed through the legislature by state Sen. Rick Ward.
“What we’d have liked is for (the governor) to be here for about noon and leave at 1 o’clock so that he could be here for an eight-hour tour to get back to the Governor’s Mansion,” Landry said.
“From the westside, I think that’s the first thing that every body wants to know is when are we going to have a faster route to get into Baton Rouge,” he continued.
Landry said he believed the visit to Iberville Parish by Edwards and Strain show the two “really care” about sugar farmers.
Both of the state’s top officials who headlined the “listening tour,” as Strain’s office called the visit, confirmed Landry’s belief that they care about sugar farmers and agriculture in general.
“The goal in this industry, for me, is that we can make it productive” and profitable, he said.
Strain not only reinforced Landry’s opinion of his and the governor’s concern for farmers, but also about what is going on in the nation’s capital that affect the industry.
“There are a lot of things going on,” he said. “…Foremost in our minds is what is going on in Washington,” referring to the current Farm Bill being considered and trade negotiations as well as the possible impact of Pres. Trump’s round of tariffs.
“I think we’re going to get through these trade issue pretty quickly and I think those tariffs are going to be temporary,” Strain said.
He continued by saying that protection for the sugar industry needs to stay in the Farm Bill, then praised Edwards and the Legislature for their protection of sugar cane farmers at the state level.
“On the state level, I want to thank the governor and our legislature for continuing to protect agriculture,” Strain said.
And while many bills offered during this year’s three special sessions and lone regular session have tried to tax agriculture, Edwards and legislators have blocked those taxation attempts.
“The governor is committed that we are not going to tax the input or output of agriculture,” Strain said.
He then talked about the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.
“When we try to explain it to people, we’ll tell them, ‘This is where the dollars begin, right out there in that dirt,’” Strain said, pointing toward Landry’s sugar cane acreage.
“That’s the foundation and the structure of our economy,” he said. “Agriculture is big business and we have to protect it.”
To illustrate the point, Strain said statistics show the “value of agriculture” and its growth over the past 12 years. “It went from about $6 billion to $13 billion.”
The agriculture commissioner then turned the podium over to Edwards, who also wanted to express his appreciation to legislators, especially those in attendance.
State senators Ed Price and Rick Ward, along with state Rep. Chad Brown were present at the meet-and-greet. So were several Iberville Parish political figures – parish President Mitchell Ourso, Sheriff Brett Stassi, Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves Jr. and others were in Landry’s farm shop for the talk.
“I want to thank all these legislators here for working so hard to make sure we could successfully conclude that last special session so that we can get the predictability that we need to keep moving forward,” Edwards said.
It was at the end of the third special session the Legislature the fiscal cliff finally was averted. The cliff, a huge shortfall to balancing the state’s budget, began being estimated as high as $1.2 billion but changes to federal tax allocations dropped Louisiana’s deficit to about $600,000.
Edwards also thanked the farmers in the crowd of about 100 for what their impact, “for what you do for our state so that we can maintain our way of life.”
“I want to tell you how much I appreciate everything you do,” he said.
“I am excited about the future of our state,” Edwards said before opening the gathering to questions from the audience. “I am genuinely optimistic.”