Many of our lakes are plagued with overgrowth like salvinia. Do you have any ideas on how to address the problem?
My horticulture and quarantine staff at the Department of Agriculture and Forestry is closely involved with the Sabine River Authority at Toledo Bend and other governing bodies of lakes and rivers throughout the state to combat invasive species like salvinia. I don't believe there is one blanket solution for all bodies of water; instead I believe my office, other state agencies and local authorities should continue working together to come up with the best possible solution for a particular body of water. In conjunction with the LSU AgCenter and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, we have introduced the salvinia weevil in canals and other bodies of water where Giant Salvinia is known to occur. These releases have shown some success and we are continuing to work together on these efforts. At some lakes and rivers, best management practices have also been implemented that include asking boaters and fishermen to wash their boats and trailers as they load up to leave a boat launch. This keeps boats and trailers from transporting invasive species plants from one body of water to another. In severe cases, lakes have been drained, herbicides applied and the lake later refilled. Again, I think it is imperative that we continue basing our decisions on sound science and what is best for a specific body of water rather than trying to make on solution fit every situation.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Department of Agriculture?
Ensuring farmers have a strong Federal Farm Bill is the number one priority for the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and our biggest challenge. There are some leaders at the federal level who would like to end programs that keep our farmers farming and keep food affordable for consumers. I am working tirelessly with other state's agriculture leaders to urge Congress to maintain current programs and strengthen the Farm Bill so the United States remains the world leader in safe, affordable food production.
Making sure the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) stays current on the latest advancements and research in agriculture and forestry is also a big challenge we face. With so many technological advances in the industries, changes occur at a rapid pace. My staff maintains open lines of communication with their peers at the local, state and federal levels and continues dialoguing with those in the industries to ensure the latest knowledge and information is available to our citizens. LDAF staff is also cross-trained and cross-utilized so new ideas are being generated and exchanged between the employees about what is best for the farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and consumers of this state. Keeping up with advancements is a challenge, but it is one LDAF employees embrace and daily succeed in accomplishing.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the agriculture industry in south Louisiana and the rebuilding of it continues. What plans do you have to help revitalize the agriculture industry in south Louisiana?
Since the hurricanes, my staff and I have been working with USDA and our Congressional Delegation to secure emergency funding for our farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. This funding is a major factor in the rebuilding efforts of our agricultural and forestry industries. The Department of Agriculture and Forestry is currently serving as the administrator for emergency relief funds for catfish farmers, but this funding can only go so far in its ability to repair what the storms destroyed. If our family farms are to continue to survive, they must diversify. In order to survive today, a family farm must produce its crop for: 1) food & fiber 2) fuel 3) elctricti(cogeneration). With that in mind, I make it my duty to meet with investors and researchers who can open new markets for our agricultural and forestry commodities. I plan to continue this promotion of our industry when I am re-elected. We cannot control Mother Nature and world markets, but we can look at alternative avenues for using our crops. Major advancements are being made in biofuels and our farmers deserve to be involved in the production of ethanol and biodiesel made from their crops. I have toured facilities using the latest production methods and have spoken to many private businessmen and women who want to produce these fuels in our state. My number one comment to them is - allow the farmers to be involved as a partner in the facility. It is this type of diversification that will help continue and further the rebuilding of our agricultural and forest industries.
Many crops are now being used to help meet the energy needs of our country. What are your thoughts on the growing roll agriculture is playing in this and what, if any, plans do you have for the state and its farmers on this?
My core belief on alternative fuel production in Louisiana is that farmers should have a role in the ownership of these businesses. If their crops are going to be used in the production, they deserve the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process of the facility. It's an exciting time for farmers as they see new prospects for marketing their crops not just as food and fiber but also as energy. We are also nearing a time when technology will allow cellulosic materials like wood chips, switch grass, sugarcane bagasse and rice hulls to be converted into fuel. With this development, the possibilities will be endless for Louisiana's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
In 2006 I worked with state legislators, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and others to make Louisiana the leader in the South for alternative fuels production. The minimum standards passed by the Legislature will assist in our economic development efforts to recruit alternative fuels companies to the state. The standards will not kick in if there is a cost to the consumer. I want to assure consumers they will not feel pain at the pump because of these standards.
My plan is to continue recruiting companies to come to Louisiana and build biofuels facilities that include the farmers in their ownership. An example is a syrup mill facility in southwest Louisiana. A company wanted to purchase the mill in Lacassine and I allowed them to purchase it with the agreement that the farmers would still be a partner in the facility and in an adjacent ethanol plant the company plans to build. If the company fails to build the ethanol plant, they lose a hefty "good faith" sum they paid up front.