Having racked up numerous frequent flier miles between Washington, D.C. and his home state this year, Mike Strain took the podium at the Louisiana Farm Bureau annual meeting on June 29 and announced a Recovery Grant Program. The commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry said $10 million in grants would be available to the state to help ameliorate the results of flooding.
“One of the big weaknesses in the farm bill is a lack of funding when there is a disaster,” said Strain to the crowd in New Orleans. “That’s consistently a problem.” In the development “of a new farm bill we may have to put disaster (funds) in a different place. There’s simply no money allocated for that.”
The $10 million will be available to those with “a gross income of $25,000, or more, for three years and more than $10,000 in losses. … I wish we had more money. Following Gustav we had $50 million for agriculture.”
As for legislation in 2017, “we killed a lot more bills than we passed. One bill, for instance, would have taxed the farm credit system. … What would that have meant? Another percent interest – a full percent of interest to you.
“Others talked about taxing our inputs, talked about taxing our gross income. … Gross profits always look good on a profit sheet. Net’s what you keep. There were taxes in a number of bills to take half – half! – of the designated funds.
“It’s amazing. I’ve been in Washington many times in the last year. The attitude there is ‘how do we grow rural America? How do we invest in rural America? How do we grow the agricultural economy?’ Here we are back home fighting to keep it from being diminished.”
The importance of the nation’s agricultural sector can’t be overstated, said Strain. “So, I’m sitting there testifying about the rural economy and have all these facts and figures, trying to make them understand: if you break the rural economy, there will be no money to spend. No money. … Agriculture is the foundation of the states’ economies, the foundation of America’s economy. We’ve pushed back and pushed back and pushed back on many bills and were 99 percent successful.”
What healthy ag sector requires
Far too many lawmakers are unaware of what a healthy agriculture sector requires, complained Strain. Some, he said, might ask “’why do you need money for seed inspection?’ Well, this year, we found the majority of rice seed in the state was below standard germination. Had the seed companies, those who produce the seed, not taken a fee for us to test and find that out it’d have cost the farmers in this state over $100 million in losses.
“Why do lawmakers want to come after agriculture’s dedicated funds? Why do they want to sweep the money from the feed fund? The seed fund? The fertilizer fund? The grain, cotton and ginners fund? It’s really simple: each of those funds has a small constituency. That’s what it’s about and we have to protect them.”
Over the last year, as head of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), Strain has traveled extensively – including two trips to Cuba. “I’ve been to the Washington more times than I can count, have been to the White House four times and will be back in a week.”
Infrastructure was a key topic during Strain’s last visit. “The president’s plan on infrastructure is $1 trillion. … We met for hours in small teams talking about the issues. They want ‘transformational’ projects to move America forward.”
Such projects should include waterway repairs, maintenance and expansion. “Open the mouth of the Mississippi River, open the port at Lake Charles.”
Several other things Strain would give major boosts include broadband availability across the nation – “it needs to be available everywhere” – and improvements to railroads and the road system.
As for international trade, “China is going to buy $2.5 billion in (U.S.) beef next year. I’d like to see some of that ship out of Louisiana.”
Despite opposition from some quarters, Strain also said he will not “back down” on pushing for trade with Cuba.