Officials optimistic about farm aid
by Michael DeVault - posted Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 @ 1:41 pm
Franklin parish farmer Buckshot Sims said the agriculture industry can survive the hit of Hurricane Gustav, but it will take a major infusion of cash from the Federal Government for many farmers to survive.
"We can't have a loan," said Sims, who is also an agriculture consultant. "You can't borrow yourself out of debt."
Though emergency agriculture loans in the past have helped, Sims said that's not the case with the damage from Gustav.
"There are some farmers still paying emergency loans from ten years ago," Sims said. "We just want what's fair."
State Sen. Francis Thompson agreed. He said that's why he and a group of legislators and state officials went to Washington, D.C. last week to plead the case for a federal response to the recent agricultural disaster.
Thompson called a federal emergency grant "absolutely essential" to the future of Louisiana's agricultural economy.
"People don't realize the very farming economy of this state is in danger," said Thompson, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Most folks think regionally or just within their own parish and they don't understand what's going on around the whole state."
Thompson said he is pressing Congress for a $2-billion aid package for agriculture not just in Louisiana, but throughout the nation, as no single crop from Louisiana to Iowa didn't feel Gustav's effects.
In his own district, Thompson said the damage could climb as high as $1.5 billion.
"We've got just devastation in farming across the whole state and it's not just one or two crops," Thompson said. "Almost every crop is over 75 to 80 percent damaged."
Thompson said a federal bailout of Louisiana farms would help keep the industry afloat until next year.
"These farmers need funds immediately to be able to meet financial obligations with grain elevators, grain haulers, and banks," Thompson said. "Everybody has got to get paid."
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu came to Rayville last week to promote an aid package and to meet with farmers affected by Gustav and Ike.
Landrieu pledged her support for area farmers.
"Our farmers were dealt three devastating blows with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and Tropical Storm Fay," Landrieu said. "We need federal assistance to recover, and we are working on an Emergency Supplemental package in Congress this week that will help every affected Louisiana farmer, including our cotton, sweet potato and corn farmers in Franklin Parish."
Landrieu will chair Senate hearings on the farm disaster later this week. At those hearings, Landrieu said she would work to make sure her congressional colleagues understood the magnitude of the disaster.
"We will hear directly from farmers in our state as well as federal, state and local officials who responded to these disasters," Landrieu said.
"This is a first step in Congress' evaluation of existing federal agricultural disaster assistance and will put us on the path to ensuring these programs work better for our farmers."