Louisiana growers bone up on farm bill

That seemed to sum up the feelings of the 200 or more growers who attended a farm bill conference hosted by the Louisiana State University AgCenter at its Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria.

Kicking off the conference, AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said he was proud of how Louisiana farmers pulled together and let their voices be heard in Washington, D.C. during the height of the farm bill battle.

“The new farm bill is not perfect,” said Richardson, who as chancellor of the AgCenter heads up all of the agriculturally related programs in the LSU system. “But we do have a bill and it’s a lot better than what we’ve had in the past. You are to be commended for the work you put into letting Congress and others in Washington know just how you felt.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important agriculture is to our state. But you got out there, and you let them know just how important it really is.”

Joseph Glauber, deputy economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s office of the chief economist, acknowledged that the new farm bill, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, has received mixed reviews.

“The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 has been described with terms ranging from ‘victory’ to ‘boondoogle’,” he said. “Controversy centers primarily on the price tag of the new bill - with full implementation costs expected at $170 billion over the next 10 years.”

The new bill shows an additional $17 billion for conservation programs. This money will be spent on expanding existing programs and establishing new conservation programs.

The LSU AgCenter’s Rex Caffey said some major conservation programs under the 2002 Farm Bill include the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Farmland Protection Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Other programs are the Water Conservation Program, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program and the Grasslands Reserve Program.

“Conservation is not a new thing,” Caffey said. “It’s been around since the beginning of time, and it’s something that can easily be done.”

In addition to lectures on conservation practices, conference attendees also heard about the economics of the new farm bill - how it will affect forestry landowners, as well as sugar and dairy policies.

Michael E. Salassi of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness said the new bill gives producers of some commodities the option to update base acreages and program yields used in computing government payments.

“This decision is a one-time opportunity which will have to be made by producers this year,” Salassi said.

Kurt Guidry, Lynn Kennedy and Jeffrey M. Gillespie, all of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, also gave talks on the potential impact of the new farm bill on Louisiana row crops, as well as sugar and dairy policies of the new farm bill.

“The premise behind the farm bill is to provide producers with an adequate safety net in difficult economic times while minimizing the effect policy has on the natural operation of the commodity markets,” Guidry said. “With increased support to agricultural production through market loans, fixed payments and counter-cyclical payments, the question becomes how these programs will affect the structure of agriculture that has existed in recent years.

“While no one knows 100 percent how this farm bill is going to impact agriculture, it’s a better situation than we had under the 1996 farm bill,” Guidry said.

Changes to dairy policy in the new farm bill include the introduction of counter-cyclical payments for milk production, while the most significant change to sugar policy is the authorization of a payment-in-kind program and market allotments.

For more information on the new Farm Bill and other information concerning Louisiana agriculture, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.

A. Denise Coolman writes for the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service

e-mail: [email protected]

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