Those at the recent Louisiana Farm Bureau annual meeting in New Orleans heard from agriculture leaders in Louisiana state government. A large part of the message: get involved if you want the agriculture sector to be healthy.
“This year, they were looking for more revenue to prop up the state budget,” reported Bret Allain, sugarcane farmer, member of Senate Agriculture Committee, and Vice-Chairman of Senate Finance Committee. “We were called to justify our exemptions and taxes and what we have, what we’ve fought for years for…
“You can tell them all about our heritage, the economic impact we have. Most members of the committee were inner city people. The friendliest person we had was a trial lawyer from Alexandria. We’re sitting there trying to justify what we have.”
Allain reminded attendees “there is no state in the nation that taxes seed, feed, fuel, fertilizer and agricultural chemicals. No one does that – and there’s a good reason. This country and this state wants to produce food as cheap as it can. That (fact) resonated with that (committee), it really did.
“I said, ‘if you start down the path where we’re taxing agricultural inputs – and remember it’s in the constitution you can’t tax food, at all – food will be more expensive for people in your district.’ That hit home because they know people in their areas are struggling…
“The biggest consumer is the U.S. government and food stamps. Last year, $78 billion was spent on food for the poorest in our nation to help them out.”
Clay Schexnayder, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said his family “has been sugarcane farmers and is still sugarcane farmers.”
He, too, spoke of the perilous position of agriculture in the state.
“I got LSU to help me get some information on jobs in urban areas pertaining to agriculture. I went to each legislator’s desk and sat down and gave them a copy of how many jobs (were in their district). They were blown away. They’d never realized how much effect agriculture has in their district. It really changed their whole perspective when (approaching) appropriations…
“You know, there are 24 million (agriculture-related) jobs across the country. That means agriculture could support (the populations) of New York, Los Angeles and eight more major cities.
“If you paid attention to the legislative session this year, you saw the battle we had about the budget. We’re about to get to a point where the battles where we’re protecting ag will be harder, a lot more than what me and Sen. Allain and the rest can do. It’s going to depend on a lot more people stepping up – including you. You’ve been in such battles before where you have to protect things at home. Well, this is home. I see it coming to us.”
The erosion of agricultural support can be observed when “funding for ag drops off a little every year. Start reaching out to our senators and representatives and tell them to fight for us. They need to hear from each one of y’all.”